Burst in manufacturing hiring could be short-lived
Monday, February 27, 2012 10:37 AM
U.S. manufacturers are hiring at the fastest pace in more than a decade to keep up with new orders, but sweeping technological advances could cost thousands of factory workers their jobs in years to come, Reuters reported.
At a new factory in upstate New York, which is due to churn out its first computer chips this year, technicians are calibrating robots to ferry material from machine to machine using miles of overhead track.
"This factory is designed to be fully automated, meaning theoretically it requires no human intervention at all," said Eric Choh, general manager at the facility run by semiconductor maker GlobalFoundries Inc.
The company is hiring engineers and programmers who are still needed to mind the machines. But "compared to 20 years ago, today we don't need a lot of labor," Choh said.
Last year, factories added 237,000 jobs - the most since 1997 - and that burst in hiring is seen stretching into this year as the economy recovers from the recession.
Over the long term, factory job creation looks destined to stagnate as technology advances, and manufacturers' role in the labor market will likely continue a decades-long decline, Reuters said.
A report from the U.S. Department of Labor projected that factory employment will drop to 11.5 million workers by 2020 - down from 11.9 million in January - despite expectations that production will increase in coming years.
Manufacturers' share of the labor market could drop to 7 percent by the end of the decade, according to the government projections, down from nearly a third in the 1950s, when unskilled workers played a bigger role, Reuters said.