Leave it to the guys at Yale University to screw up a simple headline.
I came across this article--"U.S. Battle to Revive Manufacturing—Part I" in YaleGlobal Online Magazine—but really didn't get sucked into it until I read the subhead "Job growth urged by U.S. presidential candidates may not support high standard of living." Now that's burying the main point.
In the article the writer makes the point that just because manufacturing employment is on the rise—up 400,000 from 11.5 million workers in January 2010—it doesn't necessarily translate into a return of some of the high-paying 3.7 million U.S. manufacturing jobs that have been lost since January 2002. In fact, much of the ballyhoo celebrating a return of manufacturing to U.S. shores is based on the fact that it's economical to make things here in some instances, especially when compared to the growing expense of shipping goods across an ocean and trying to manage far-flung manufacturing operations.
The author, Bruce Stokes, who works at the German Marshall Fund of the U.S., specifically singled out the widely reported Boston Consulting Group study that suggested millions of manufacturing jobs could be created in the coming years as work that was once offshored to Asia returns to domestic soil. However, Stokes said the study assumed future industrial wages would equal those presently paid in this country's poorest region—the South—and payment flexibility that the U.S. automakers have been able to extract from the United Auto Workers, where newly hired workers' wages are about half of what veteran co-workers' wages are.
The 2010 Salary/wage and Benefit Survey from the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association reported welding salaries ranging from $19,380 to $83,200. (Overtime was not included in the responses.) That reinforces the fact that starting out in manufacturing in many instances is not about getting rich; it's more about starting a career. That $83,000 annual salary is not a misnomer, but it's going to take a lot of work and advanced certifications to reach that level.
When you look at the bigger picture, you realize that manufacturing actually has more in common with other sections of the economy as it relates to downward pressure on salaries. It may be slow coming for those in areas such as government, but the trend is real. No one is immune in this economy.
And that's probably good news for manufacturing. The entry-level wages aren't overwhelming, but that's the case for other segments as well. The playing field has leveled somewhat as economic segments such as finance and retail have undergone major restructuring. You now can argue that manufacturing has as much of an upside as other industries do, perhaps with the exclusion of health care.
Now manufacturers have to do a better job of positioning their employment opportunities as the first steps in a fulfilling career. They can't afford to bury that headline.