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Manufacturing offers some a bright future

Manufacturing is booming again as the United States continues to lead the world in the production of goods. With just 4 percent of the world's population, the United States produces 21 percent of the world's goods.

That is well ahead of the 15 percent for China and 12 percent for Japan.

Manufactured goods account for 70 percent of U.S. exports.

But U.S. employment in manufacturing has declined.

Manufacturing has accounted for, on average, 13 percent of the U.S. economy since 1979 - but employment in that sector has fallen by an average of 250,000 jobs per year in that time, said the Kiplinger Letter.

Manufacturing employment fell from 16.6 million in October 2002 to under 12 million in October 2012.

That is because of mechanization. Manufacturers have turned to machines to increase productivity - just as coal companies replaced the pick and shovel.

Blue-collar jobs for high school graduates are giving way to jobs that require advanced technical skills or college degrees.

"It is a story of robotics and other technologies improving at a remarkable rate, eliminating the need for factory floors crowded with workers doing manual labor," wrote Neil Irwin of the Washington Post.

"In the newest factories, one can look across an airplane hangar-sized floor and see only a small handful of technicians staring at computer screens, monitoring the work of the machines. Workers lifting and pushing and riveting are nowhere to be seen."

West Virginia leaders should focus carefully on this change.

The National Association of Manufacturers reported that in 2010, the average compensation for a manufacturing worker was a whopping $77,186 in wages and benefits. That was nearly 37 percent higher than the average pay and benefits in all industries.

But those jobs will go to people with advanced technical qualifications or degrees in technical fields.

The state's universities should work to steer students into degrees that employers need, and away from degrees in easy and breezy courses.

 


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