Exploring the Role of Skilled Trades in Advanced Manufacturing

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The skilled trades are in high demand; as previously reported, 89% of contractors struggle to fill craft positions. And while we talk a lot about careers in construction when discussing the options available when pursuing a trades career, there are wide variety of options available to tradespeople and apprentices alike outside of the construction trades. Non-construction trades like service trades and technology trades are on the rise as technology, automation, and robotics emerge and reshape industries for jobseekers, for example. 

In this article, we’ll focus on defining the manufacturing trades, an often-overlooked career pathway for tradespeople; particularly, we’ll:  

Manufacturing Trades: What Is a Trades Career in the Manufacturing Industry? 

Manufacturing trades are skilled tradesmen and tradeswomen who work within a manufacturing setting, such as a factory, custom fabrication or prefab shop, or other commercial, industrial, or warehouse settings. 

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List of Skilled Trades Career Opportunities in Advanced Manufacturing 

Examples of manufacturing trades include: 

  • Industrial Electricians, responsible for the installation and maintenance of electrical power, communication, lighting, and control systems within manufacturing facilities.  
  • Industrial Mechanics, responsible for the installation, maintenance, and repair of manufacturing equipment. Industrial mechanics are professionals trained to read technical documents and understand how mechanical systems work, as well as identifying problems, and correcting them to limit downtime. 
  • Service trades, including maintenance technicians, who usually possess skills similar to HVAC technicians. 
  • Tool & Die Makers, responsible for setting up and operating equipment to produce precision metal parts, instruments, and tools. 
  • Computer Numerical Control (CNC) Setup Technicians and Operators/CNC Machinists, professionals capable of transforming metal, plastic, and other industrial materials into different parts via machining equipment (CNC machines). 
  • Assemblers read and decipher schematics, blueprints, and assembly instructions necessary to assemble parts and subassemblies. Meanwhile, Welder/fabricators (e, g., metalworker) are responsible for crafting together metal parts according to detailed blueprints, as well as monitoring the performance of welding machinery.  
  • Technology Trades, including telecommunication equipment installers and repairers.  

Advanced Manufacturing Definition 

Advanced manufacturing refers to when manufacturing facilities adopt technology and innovative approaches (such as lean manufacturing principles) in order to improve products, streamline processes, and maximize production output. 

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Examples of manufacturing technology include 

Trades Career: The Case for Entering the Manufacturing Industry 

Conventional wisdom may look to private sector manufacturing employment data—which would appear to be in steady decline since the mid 80s—as evidence of the manufacturing industry not being a viable industry to pursue employment in over the long term.   

The topline takeaway, though, is that manufacturing, like any other industry, is changing—streamlined, not made extinct, by automation; as noted in a Brookings article: 

…while robots have displaced unskilled workers on assembly lines, they have also created new jobs for machinists, advanced welders, and other technicians who maintain the machines or use them to perform new tasks.

State of the Manufacturing Industry and Skills Gap Make Room for Skilled Trades  

The manufacturing industry still ranked among the top 5 of the nation’s largest employers, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Echoing this, a recent 2021 ManPower global survey revealed manufacturing/production roles to be among the top five in-demand roles across all industries, in addition to operations/logistics roles, not unlike those of tool crib managers 

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Advanced manufacturing, like construction as we’ve previously reported, faces a similarly widening skills gap, where opportunities for employment abound. For example, according to a 2018 study conducted by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, 51% of executives have cited that “maintaining or increasing production levels to satisfy growing customer demand” is the biggest challenge emerging from simply being unable to fill open jobs.  

That same study found that, in the U.S. manufacturing industry, 2.4 million (53 for every 100) open positions lie vacant due to skilled shortages. They estimated that persistent skills shortage could risk $2.5 trillion economic output over the next decade. And while there were 488,000 manufacturing jobs left unfilled in 2018, that’s expected to reach 4.6 million by 2028; what’s more, of these manufacturing vacancies, 2.9 million are expected to be left open from retirees, while 1.96 million represent new jobs due to natural growth.  

Like we said, opportunities abound. 

Key Benefits to Pursing a Manufacturing Trade Career   

Why enter the manufacturing trades 

  • Lucrative Pay/Salary: U.S. manufacturing jobs are stable, provide job security, and tend to pay more than other industries, a joint study by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute noted. For example, average hourly earnings for manufacturing roles were $30/hour, compared to $22 in retail and $28 in services industries. 
  • Benefits: While certainly anecdotal, advantages to pursuing employment at private sector companies are the comprehensive, if predictable, benefits packages they afford. While trades careers offer a unique entrepreneurial pathway to those looking to shape their own destinies, access to company-provided benefits programs certainly serves as a competitive advantage. What’s more, the same above-cited Deloitte/Manufacturing Institute joint study found that the manufacturing industry beat out other industries in terms of benefits available to workers: Of those surveyed, 84% had access to retirement benefits (as compared to 72% in retail trade and 45% in services); 90% reported having access to healthcare benefits (as compared to 54% in retail trade and 52% in services); 95% reported having access to paid vacation benefits (as compared to 72% in retail trades and 73% in services); and 81% reported having access to paid sick leave benefits (as compared to 67% in retail trades and 70% in services).  
  • Future Career Opportunities: A final consideration is access (at applicable organizations) to education and training benefits. Skilled production workers (e.g., welders, machinists, equipment operators) looking to upskill and grow in their career and area of expertise may pursue company-offered educational assistance to gain additional skills or earn a college or advanced degree, leading to higher-paid roles like Manufacturing Engineer; on the other hand, they may prefer to pursue supervisory roles like Quality Managers and Inspectors, Operations Managers/Directors, etc. As manufacturing becomes more advanced and automated, what’s more, additional advanced engineering and technologist roles, as well as Safety Manager roles, are also sure to emerge.

The Future of Manufacturing Careers and Manufacturing Trades 

Manufacturing isn’t like it used to be. For example, just consider this Deloitte study that reported how 64% of consumers view manufacturing as innovative, up 39% of respondents 5 years ago.   industrial-electrician-uses-milwaukee-digital-torque-wrench

However, an overwhelming majority (83%) of manufacturers reported their top focus is attracting and retaining a quality workforce, considering that 45% had to turn down business opportunities due to labor shortages. 

From a jobseeker’s perspective, manufacturing has several advantages: Not only does it offer the perhaps intangible but emotionally affective “Made in the USA” point of pride, but also, it delivers on competitive salary, benefits, and—as one of the nation’s largest employers—it likewise represents 85% of all U.S. patents and employs most of the nation’s engineers. 

This is to say, the future of manufacturing looks bright, though changing perceptions about the manufacturing industry remains a primary factor to attracting workers. Most reported being unfamiliar with how, for example, robotics and artificial intelligence can make jobs safer and allow employees to do more productive work, just like perhaps too few are aware of how smart tools can help make electrical installations safer to trades. 

Milwaukee® Tool Manufacturing Roles  

Here at Milwaukee® Tool, we regularly offer manufacturing roles, including manufacturing trades (e.g., maintenance technicians, assemblers, machinists, electricians, plumber/pipefitters, etc.), at our manufacturing facilities in Greenwood and Jackson, Mississippi, as well as here in Wisconsin at our Mukwonago, Sun Prairie, and West Bend facilities. Highly competitive salaries are complemented with comprehensive benefits including full medical, dental, and vision insurance; a 401(k) with company matching; paid holidays and PTO; educational assistance; and more. 

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