Careers in manufacturing: more sophisticated than most think

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Authored by Jerry Murphy, leader of Sikich’s manufacturing and distribution team, and Mark Denzler, President of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association (IMA)

Two maintenance engineers men and women inspect relay protection system with laptop comp. They work a heavy industry manufacturing factory.It’s no secret, the manufacturing industry often has a perception of being dark, dirty and dangerous. In reality, those working in manufacturing will tell you this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Leaders in manufacturing are proactive thinkers, often planning not just for tomorrow, but the next five to 10 years. To stay ahead of consumer demand, supply chain interruptions and transformative technology, the industry leverages countless advanced tools and diverse resources. But it’s not as easy as it sounds. The industry needs workers, but only 5% of manufacturing executives are confident in their ability to acquire the talent needed, according to a recent Sikich Industry Pulse survey. Manufacturers struggle to appeal to the younger generation of workers, who have been told time and time again that college is the only path toward a successful career.

Manufacturers need to combat common misconceptions of the industry by debunking these myths and reeling in the next generation of the workforce. Here are our findings:

Educating tomorrow’s leaders

As of March 2021, there are more than 700,000 open manufacturing jobs according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nearly half of the current workforce, as well, is set to retire in the next 10 to 15 years. A change in the industry is on the horizon, as employers heighten their focus on recruiting and training an entirely different generation of workers.

Unfortunately, manufacturing jobs are often perceived as a plan B for students that are unsure if they want to attend a four-year college. These roles need to be advertised as what they are: gratifying, high-paying careers for hands-on and active employees. Some employers are even offering to pay for the training and schooling needed to work on their shop floor, a much more attractive path than racking up student debt. By working with local schools (middle, high, community and technical), counselors, teachers and parents, companies can shed light on the promising career trajectory in manufacturing.

High-tech opportunities

As an industry that often does not get the limelight as a leader in tech jobs, manufacturers have successfully utilized artificial intelligence, automation and more for years. Today, robotics are leveraged to complete dangerous and monotonous tasks, while employees supervise and run the technology. Workers may not be on the production line – rather, they may be building, programming and performing maintenance on the automated machines that do the “nitty gritty.” This shift in the shop floor contributes to a refreshed workplace and evolving skillset requirements for manufacturing employees.

Manufacturers are looking for candidates with interest and skills in technology, computer science, math and engineering. While technical schools can prepare candidates for a job in manufacturing, the employers themselves are investing in on-the-job training to develop their workforce even further.

A diverse, well-paid workforce

While stigmas of the field evoke thoughts of low paying, manual work, manufacturers have high starting wages, anywhere from $15 to $30+ an hour, and seek to employ an extremely diverse set of candidates. Organizations like the IMA work with laborers of all ages and skillsets – from students to veterans, dislocated workers, incumbent workers, returning citizens and more – to find the best fit for their talents. In a historically male-dominated profession, manufacturing companies are striving to build inclusive cultures for all employees through mentorship and leadership programs as well as in diversity, inclusion and equity trainings.

In the IMA’s 2019 Manufacturing Matters report, they uncovered that Illinois manufacturers employ 556,000 women and men on factory floors today; and these workers earn an average of more than $80,000 in wages and benefits.

Pandemic powerhouses

Most of us are ready to put the pandemic and all its hardships in the rearview mirror, but we can’t neglect the fact that manufacturers led the charge in keeping the U.S. afloat these past 18 months. Facilities shifted to making PPE equipment, hospital beds and more in a matter of days, showcasing impressive displays of adaptability. Manufacturers deserve much credit for keeping the economy running and Americans working.

A manufacturing job is something to be proud of, and the generations entering the workforce are starting to see that.

Taking the next step

The industry is changing faster than we can imagine. Manufacturing leaders are preparing for, reimagining and shaping the future workforce. Companies are thinking now about skillsets needed in the next five or 10 years, how to find new ways to leverage technology to make the job safer and more sustainable and how to further reduce unemployment. It’s our job, as leaders in the industry, to advocate for careers in manufacturing and continue to educate future professionals on the endless opportunities within this career. With all of this innovation, it’s hard to imagine how the industry will look in a decade. Though, if we can take a guess, it’s going to make waves.

About our authors

Jerry Murphy

Jerry Murphy

Jerry Murphy, CPA, CMA, CGMA, is the Partner-in-Charge of Sikich’s Manufacturing & Distribution Services team. Jerry is a Certified Management Accountant, Certified Public Accountant and a Certified Global Management Accountant. He specializes in assurance services and provides business advisory solutions in areas such as operations improvement, strategic planning and mergers and acquisitions. Jerry serves on the firm’s Assurance Services Executive Committee.

Mark Denzler

Mark Denzler

Mark Denzler is the President and CEO of the Illinois Manufacturers' Association (IMA). The IMA works to address industry challenges while shaping the future for manufacturers. They solve problems and pave the way for the industry by using cutting-edge tools and technology. Their Education Foundation is a world-renowned organization working to implement best-in-class solutions to develop the next generation of the manufacturing workforce.


This publication contains general information only and Sikich is not, by means of this publication, rendering accounting, business, financial, investment, legal, tax, or any other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such professional advice or services, nor should you use it as a basis for any decision, action or omission that may affect you or your business. Before making any decision, taking any action or omitting an action that may affect you or your business, you should consult a qualified professional advisor. In addition, this publication may contain certain content generated by an artificial intelligence (AI) language model. You acknowledge that Sikich shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by you or any person who relies on this publication.


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