In The Great Gatsby, the central character is captivated by a green navigational beacon off in the distance that gives him eternal hope. Although Jay Gatsby wasn’t thinking about assembly lines, manufacturing has a similar green light and assemblers are equally optimistic these days.
Since the Great Recession ended several years ago, manufacturing output has increased 6 percent—double overall growth during the same period. Among other factors, the recent boom in domestic oil and gas production is having a dramatic impact on U.S. manufacturers. The “shale gale” is making it cheaper to produce goods domestically, due to favorable energy and raw material prices.
The 18th annual ASSEMBLY State of the Profession survey captured some of that optimism. More than three-fourths (84 percent) of respondents expect their company to commit either the same amount or more resources toward assembly operations in the next year.
Manufacturers in the transportation sector, which includes automobiles, car parts, trucks, planes and locomotives, are the most bullish about the future. That’s reflected in recent news coming from the auto industry, which is experiencing its best year since 2007. Through the first four months of 2013, U.S. cars sales were up 7 percent over 2012.
“The current pace suggests full steam ahead for the second half of 2013,” says Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting at LMC Automotive. “Economic and market headwinds have been minimized, while demand continues to build momentum.”
General Motors plans to invest a whopping $16 billion in new equipment and plants over the next three years as its rolls out 20 new or retooled vehicles. Not to be outdone, Ford Motor Co. is spending more than $6 billion over the next two years for new equipment and capacity expansion at its U.S. plants.
Ford also recently announced plans to increase its North American capacity by 200,000 vehicles this year. Toyota Motor Corp. is investing $531 million to enlarge its flagship U.S. operation in Georgetown, KY. And, Nissan Motor Co. plans to build a $2 billion assembly plant in the United States for its Infiniti division.
The 2013 State of the Profession survey was conducted in March, as the manufacturing sector continued to pace the U.S. economy. According to the Federal Reserve Bank, total industrial production during the first quarter was 2 percent above its year-earlier level.
“Despite some austerity measures, there are several reasons to be optimistic about continued economic growth in 2013 and 2014,” says Daniel Meckstroth, Ph.D., chief economist at the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation. “One is that consumer deleveraging is close to an end. Consumers have refinanced, defaulted or restructured mortgage debt and paid down installment debt.
“Households have the capacity to use more credit, and loans are available for creditworthy households,” adds Meckstroth. “In addition, the housing market is showing definitive improvement, particularly on the supply side.”
Machine tool sales are another good indicator of economic health. In March, orders for new manufacturing technology in the United States were up 30 percent from February.
“With vehicle sales and housing starts on the upswing, we can anticipate that gains in the consumer economy will also mean buoyancy for the industrial economy,” says Douglas Woods, president of AMT—The Association for Manufacturing Technology. “Manufacturing will remain steady for the foreseeable future.”
Assemblers are under greater pressure than ever to lower production costs. Indeed, two-thirds (65 percent) of State of the Profession respondents claim that’s the No. 1 issue affecting their assembly operation today.
“New opportunities for cost reduction are emerging, including internal optimization, materials cost cuts and reduced energy prices,” says Dave Sievers, principal and practice leader at the Hackett Group Inc. “Manufacturers are targeting a 2 percent reduction in the cost of goods sold for 2013. A significant portion of this will be driven by a reduction in internal manufacturing costs.”
During the past decade, outsourcing has been a relatively easy way for manufacturers to cut costs. But, the pendulum has swung back the other way. Many companies are now scrambling to reshore production from China, Mexico and other low-cost countries.
According to Sievers, the economic advantage of reshoring is expected to “reach a crucial tipping point by 2015, as the total landed cost gap…continues to shrink, driven in part by rising wage inflation in China and continued productivity improvements in the United States.”
Both large and small companies in a wide variety of industries have added, or are planning to add, U.S. production capacity after assessing the total costs and risks involved in offshoring.
For instance, Motorola Mobility recently announced that it plans to assemble its new Moto X smart phone at a 500,000-square-foot plant in Fort Worth, TX. The former Nokia factory has not been used in 15 years, since production was shifted to Asia. Flextronics is investing $25 million to retrofit the facility.
Gutterglove Inc., a manufacturer of gutter protection systems, has relocated its assembly line from China to Rocklin, CA. Kennedy Valve Co. is reshoring production of its rotating disc gate valve to a plant in Elmira, NY, after experiencing delivery problems with a supplier in Thailand. Team Technologies Inc., a contract manufacturer of medical devices, is shifting production from China to its Morristown, TN, plant.
Reverie, a manufacturer of adjustable beds, recently reshored production from Taiwan to a plant in Silver Creek, NY. With domestic assembly and shipping, the company says it will have greater flexibility to offer a variety of new options to its customers.
“This decision makes sense from both a customer service and economic standpoint,” claims Jack Eppolito, chief operating officer. “[Domestic] manufacturing gives our customers what they need with a faster turnaround. We see real value in manufacturing in the United States.”
Even some start-up companies are getting in on the made-in-the-USA trend. Last year—decades since the last wristwatch was mass-produced in the United States—Shinola began assembling watches at a factory in Detroit. The 83-year-old art deco building once housed the General Motors research laboratory.
The State of the Profession survey captured some of the recent uptick in reshoring activity. For instance, 12 percent of respondents claim that their company has brought jobs back to the states from overseas during the past year. And, 15 percent expect their companies to reshore assembly operations during the next 12 months.
Large manufacturers (companies with more than 1,000 employees) are more likely to reshore. Nearly one-third (30 percent) of respondents in that category plan to shift assembly operations back to the United States during the next 12 months vs. 8 percent of small manufacturers (companies with less than 50 employees).
More than one-quarter (26 percent) of assembly professionals in the transportation equipment sector expect their company to reshore operations during the next 12 months. The computer and electronic products industry (24 percent), which includes manufacturers of antennas, audiovisual equipment, laboratory instruments, loudspeakers and process control instruments, also expects to see more reshoring activity.
“The U.S. is definitely a more cost-competitive source for manufacturing today than it has been in many, many years,” says Steve Maurer, managing director at AlixPartners, a consulting firm that specializes in enterprise improvement and corporate turnarounds. “In fact, the cost gap with China has, on average, been closed by approximately 70 percent. The United States is now equal to Mexico in ‘attractiveness’ as a source for manufacturing operations and is on track to achieve cost parity with China by 2015.”
Where’s the Talent?
While the future looks bright for U.S. manufacturing, the growing skills gap and talent shortage is a big concern for assembly professionals. More than one-third (40 percent) of State of the Profession respondents claim that the number of people employed at their plant has increased during the past year.
However, a severe labor shortage threatens to dampen future hiring plans. Almost one-half (47 percent) of respondents claim they are having trouble finding skilled workers. That’s a 7 percentage point increase over 2012 and a 9 percentage point increase over 2011.
Assemblers in the contract manufacturing industry report the biggest demand (57 percent) for new employees, followed by computer and electronic product manufacturers (51 percent) and transportation equipment manufacturers (50 percent). The fabricated metal products industry (26 percent), which includes manufacturers of ammunition, doors, firearms, hand tools, hinges, springs, valves and windows, has hired the fewest number of assemblers in the past 12 months.
Midsized manufacturers (companies with 250 to 500 employees) have hired the most assemblers in the past year (67 percent), while small manufacturers (companies with less than 50 employees) have hired the fewest number of assemblers (26 percent).
As automakers and suppliers continue to boost production during the months ahead, the transportation sector (61 percent) expects to have the hardest time finding qualified assemblers. On the other hand, only 35 percent of assembly professionals in the electrical equipment and appliance industry predict they’ll experience a talent shortage.
Midsized manufacturers (64 percent) expect to have the hardest time finding skilled workers in the near future, followed by large manufacturers (57 percent) and small manufacturers (43 percent). Assemblers in the South (55 percent) report having the most difficulty finding employees vs. 38 percent of assembly professionals in the West.
It takes an average of four to six months to fill skilled manufacturing positions today. More than one-third (36 percent) of respondents claim that its takes one to three months to fill the typical position. However, 14 percent say that it takes more than seven months.
“Following the recession, organizations are experiencing recruiting difficulty because almost half of the jobs to be filled are either completely new positions or jobs with newly added duties that place a greater emphasis on applied skills,” says Alexander Alonso, vice president for research at the Society for Human Resource Management. “The exit of Baby Boomers from the workforce and a smaller Generation X workforce poised to replace them could make recruiting even more challenging in the years ahead.
“Many companies are now trying to identify ways to solve the skills gap,” adds Alonso. “Creative ideas are being tested with encouraging results. However, we still have a long way to go and more coordinated efforts are required.”
The Boston Consulting Group Inc. (BCG) estimates that the United States is short some 80,000 to 100,000 highly skilled manufacturing workers. But, on the bright side, that shortage represents less than 8 percent of the nation’s 1.4 million highly skilled manufacturing workers.
“What’s more, only seven states show significant or severe skills gaps,” notes Harold Sirkin, a senior partner at BCG. “The shortages are local, not nationwide, in nature and reflect imbalances driven by both location and job classes.”
By BCG’s definition, only five of the nation’s 50 largest manufacturing centers—Baton Rouge, LA; Charlotte, NC; Miami; San Antonio; and Wichita, KS—appear to have significant or severe skills gaps. Occupations in shortest supply are welders, machinists and industrial-machinery mechanics.
“Shortages of highly skilled manufacturing workers exist and must be addressed, but the numbers aren’t as bad as many believe,” claims Sirkin. “The problem is very localized. It’s much less of an issue in larger communities, where supply and demand evens out more efficiently thanks to the bigger pool of workers.
“Investment in training and skills development needs to be stepped up, but there’s little reason to believe that the U.S. cannot remain on track for a manufacturing renaissance by 2020,” Sirkin points out. “However, the skills gap could become more severe as aging workers in key trades retire and as ramped-up manufacturing due to reshoring heightens labor demand.”
According to BCG, the average U.S. high-skilled manufacturing worker is 56 years old. Based on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and BCG estimates, the shortage of highly skilled individuals could worsen to approximately 875,000 machinists, welders, industrial-machinery mechanics and engineers by 2020.
To avert a crisis, both awareness building and recruitment will have to be stepped up nationwide to ensure that enough new talent is entering the right trades. “Companies should be much more aggressive about cultivating the next generation of manufacturing talent,” he warns. “With more investment in recruiting and more in-house training, the availability of manufacturing talent could actually become a major competitive advantage for the United States.”
The typical State of the Profession survey respondent is 51 years old, has 23 years of experience and earns $87,990. However, there are exceptions at both the high and low ends of the scale. For instance, 14 percent of respondents take home less than $60,000 per year, while 37 percent earn more than $90,000.
Many assemblers are benefiting from the recent uptick in manufacturing activity. More than half (54 percent) of respondents received a pay increase over the last 12 months. Only 7 percent experienced a decrease in salary. Salary raises varied widely, but the average increase was 6 percent.
More than one half (51 percent) of ASSEMBLY’s respondents received a cash bonus during the last 12 months. That’s a 4 percentage point increase over 2012. Extra compensation was typically based on overall company and plant performance, in addition to meeting deadlines for new projects, implementing cost reduction programs and launching new products.
Two-thirds (66 percent) of assemblers who work for companies that manufacture computer and electronic equipment received a cash bonus during the past year. By comparison, only 31 percent of assemblers who work in the fabricated metal products industry received bonuses.
More than half (59 percent) of State of the Profession respondents expect to receive a salary increase at their next review, which is 4 percentage points higher than in 2012. Assemblers in the electrical equipment and appliance industry feel most confident about receiving an increase in the near future. Indeed, 71 percent of those individuals say they expect a raise.
But, assembly professionals who work in the fabricated metal products industry are less optimistic. Only 47 percent expect a raise during the next 12 months.
Assemblers who work for larger manufacturers (1,000 or more employees) are more likely to receive a bonus than those employed by companies with less than 100 employees.
Several factors determine compensation, such as age, education, location and industry. Industry experience is the biggest factor that determines pay rates. Individuals with less than 10 years of experience in the assembly field (20 percent of respondents) earn less than industry veterans with more than 15 years of experience (69 percent of respondents).
Assembly professionals tend to be loyal employees who stay with the same company for long periods of time. In fact, 55 percent of respondents have worked at the same firm for more than 10 years, while 14 percent have been with their present employer for less than three years.
Salaries typically vary from region to region, based on the local cost of living. The Northeast (Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont), which is home to 19 percent of State of the Profession respondents, boasts the highest salaries—an average of $103,809.
On the other hand, assemblers in the South (Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia), which is home to 25 percent of respondents, average $80,177. Only 14 percent of assembly professionals in the South earn more than $100, 000 vs. 43 percent of assemblers in the Northeast.
That is one reason why many manufacturers continue to open new assembly plants in the South. For example, Triumph Aerostructures is building a 730,000-square-foot facility in Red Oak, TX, that’s scheduled to open in the fall. Earlier this year, Mitsubishi Electric Power Products Inc. opened a $200 million plant in Memphis to produce transformers.
Boeing plans to spend $1 billion to expand its two-year-old Dreamliner factory in North Charleston, SC. In addition, Kubota Corp. recently opened a $73 million tractor assembly line in Jefferson, GA.
The Midwest (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin) is home to 39 percent of respondents. With an average salary of $86,364, that region most closely resembles the national average of $87,990.
Assemblers in the West (Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming) earn an average salary of $85,087, which is slightly less than the national average. However, those individuals typically work fewer hours per week than their counterparts. They work an average of 46 hours a week vs. 49 hours for assemblers in the South.
Only 21 percent of respondents in the West expect to work more hours during the next 12 months vs. 45 percent in the South. However, only 51 percent assemblers in the South expect to receive a raise in the near future vs. 61 percent in the West.
Of course, money doesn’t always buy happiness. Assembly professionals in the West tend to be more satisfied than their peers in other parts of the country, even though they have the second lowest average salaries. More than half (57 percent) claim to be “extremely satisfied” vs. 36 percent of assemblers in the Northeast.
Sizing Up Salaries
Salary and job satisfaction in the assembly profession are usually influenced by the size of a manufacturer. For instance, assemblers who work in companies with more than 2,000 employees tend to be well compensated. Indeed, 65 percent of assemblers at those companies earn more than $90,000.
On the other hand, only 37 percent of assemblers at small manufacturers (companies with less than 50 employees) earn more than $90,000. Assembly professionals who work in larger companies also claim to be happier (51 percent) than people who work for small firms (43 percent).
Assemblers in the computer and electronic products sector earn higher salaries than their peers in other industries. For instance, they earn 10 percent more than the national average of $87,990.
Assembly professionals in the transportation equipment and fabricated metal products industries also boast higher-than-average compensation. However, respondents who work for electrical equipment and appliance manufacturers earn 10 percent less than the national average.
Assemblers in the machinery manufacturing industry, which includes agricultural equipment, construction equipment, food processing equipment, printing presses, pumps and compressors, earn salaries that closely match the national average.
Manufacturing engineers (45 percent of respondents) rank slightly behind design engineers (13 percent of respondents) when it comes to compensation. According to our survey, design engineers earn an average of $86,028 vs. $82,611 for manufacturing engineers. To make matters worse, design engineers also claim they have been working one hour less per week than their colleagues.
Age is another key factor that affects compensation. For instance, assembly professionals who are more than 60 years old (18 percent of respondents) typically earn the highest salaries. They average $120,633 vs. assemblers who are under 40 (16 percent of respondents), who earn an average of $73,418.
Salaries also fluctuate dramatically based on type and level of education. For example, assembly professionals with just a bachelor’s degree (43 percent of respondents) earn an average of $84,176. However, assemblers armed with a master’s degree (19 percent of respondents) earn $90,117.
Obtaining a master’s in business administration (MBA) is a good way to ensure a higher salary. Our survey discovered that MBAs (15 percent of respondents) make an average of $38,356 more per year than non-MBAs. However, MBAs typically work three more hours per week than non-MBAs.
No Time to Rest
Assemblers worked an average of 47 hours a week in 2012. In fact, 79 percent of 2013 State of the Profession respondents often work more than 40 hours a week.
Assembly professionals in the transportation equipment industry work the longest weeks (51 hours), followed by machinery manufacturers (49 hours), and plastics and rubber product manufacturers (48 hours). Assemblers in the fabricated metal products industry have the shortest work week (45 hours).
As more manufacturers keep their assembly lines humming to keep up with increasing demand, there appears to be no end in sight for long work weeks. In fact, many U.S. auto plants have pared back on their annual summer shutdowns, due to stronger than expected sales.
More than one-quarter (29 percent) of assemblers claim that their average work week will increase during the next 12 months. That’s 4 percentage points higher than in 2012.
More than one-half (55 percent) of assembly professionals who work in the energy manufacturing industry, which includes oil and gas equipment, solar panels and wind turbines, expect to work more hours during the next 12 months vs. only 26 percent of assemblers in the plastic and rubber products industry.
Assembly professionals who work for large manufacturers plan to spend more time at work than their counterparts in smaller companies. More than one-third (46 percent) of respondents who work for manufacturers with more than 1,000 employees expect to work more hours per week in the next 12 months. However, only 33 percent of assemblers who work for companies with less than 50 employees foresee longer work weeks ahead.
The majority (64 percent) of respondents claim that they are doing the same amount of work-related travel today vs. one year ago. Only 11 percent of assemblers say they are doing more travel. Those individuals are more likely to be manufacturing engineers (13 percent) rather than design engineers (9 percent).
More than one-half (57 percent) of respondents claim that time constraints will affect their ability to do their jobs during the next 12 months. Time-related pressure will pose the biggest challenge to assemblers who work in large companies and the computer and electronics (70 percent), energy equipment (65 percent) and fabricated metal products (65 percent) industries.
Many assemblers will spend more time trying to improve manufacturing flexibility. Indeed, two-thirds (68 percent) of respondents believe that flexible assembly systems will contribute to their companies’ overall competitive advantage during the next 12 months.
More than three-fourths (84 percent) of assembly professionals in the wood and furniture products industry claim they will be focusing on flexibility, followed by computer and electronic products manufacturers (79 percent), and electrical equipment and appliance manufacturers (75 percent).
Two-thirds (65 percent) of assembly professionals are also focusing more of their efforts on improving product quality. That’s a 4 percentage point increase over 2012.
More than three-fourths (78 percent) of assemblers in the computer and electronics industry are involved with quality initiatives, following by transportation equipment (74 percent), and electrical equipment and appliance manufacturers (69 percent).
Most assembly professionals are satisfied with their jobs. Almost one-half (45 percent) of respondents say they are “highly satisfied” with their jobs today, while only 8 percent claim they are “not satisfied.”
However, a closer look at the data reveals some variations. For example, manufacturing engineers are happier than design engineers. Indeed, 45 percent of manufacturing engineers claim to be “highly satisfied” vs. 35 percent of design engineers.
Overall, 73 percent of assemblers who claim to be “highly satisfied” with their jobs earn more than $80,000 a year, while 43 percent of assemblers who are “not satisfied” earn less than $80,000. Not surprisingly, individuals who are “not satisfied” typically do not receive cash bonuses and provide little or no input on budgeting new assembly equipment.
The happiest assemblers work in the energy products industry, where 65 percent of respondents claim to be “highly satisfied” with their jobs. Other industries with highly satisfied employees include contract manufacturers (59 percent) and electrical equipment and appliance manufacturers (49 percent). In contrast, only 34 percent of assemblers in the wood and furniture products industry are “highly satisfied.”
Job satisfaction is defined in different ways by different people. But, the top three reasons cited by assemblers are: “I enjoy my work.” "My job is challenging.” and “Constant changes keep things interesting.”
“I work for a great company that offers good pay, good benefits and tries to treat people fairly,” says a manufacturing engineer in the electrical equipment and appliance industry. “I am able to expand my role based on my skills, and I’m not locked into a specific job.”
“I have a very interesting job where I rarely have two days alike,” adds a design engineer in the energy products industry. “My company invests in new products, new processes and new equipment, while still maintaining our existing equipment and products.”
“I am involved in many different aspects of the manufacturing process, including automation, design of new equipment, redesign of existing equipment, implementation of new products, production issues and improvement of efficiency,” says a plant manager in the fabricated metal products industry.
“I have a fairly good salary and benefits, but it could be better,” notes a design engineer in the computer and electronic products industry. “Corporate management supports the existence of my job position. However, management periodically issues mandates that are not fully accepted at the plant level. They are not totally open to discussion or debate.”
Unfortunately, some respondents are not satisfied with their jobs. Common complaints from assemblers include low compensation, instability, incompetence and lack of resources.
“Although I love the work that I do, there is nowhere to go, nothing to move up to, and no promise for the future,” laments a manufacturing engineer in the transportation equipment industry. “The company continues to make a profit, but never rewards the employees who are responsible for it. Meanwhile, nobody has any say in anything we do, yet we are all somehow responsible for the negative outcomes that we cannot control.”
“Management is often more focused on current products and the monthly budget rather than allowing engineering to work on R&D tasks,” says a manufacturing engineer in the plastics and rubber products industry.
“Our company culture has run amuck,” adds a design engineer in the machinery industry. “The new generation of workers fresh out of school do not have a work ethic. Also, R&D does not have any respect for the professionalism and the need for sustaining engineering when passing a new product to operations. They believe they know everything.”
Almost two-thirds (65 percent) of assemblers are under pressure to lower production costs today, but it depends on the size of their company. For instance, only 51 percent of assemblers who work for smaller manufacturers (companies with less than 50 employees) are worried about production costs vs. 82 percent of assemblers who work for large manufacturers (companies with 1,000 or more employees).
Respondents in the fabricated metal products (86 percent) and computer and electronics industry (82 percent) are under more pressure to lower production costs than their peers in other industries.
Assembly professionals in the energy industry (49 percent) are less concerned about lowering production costs. They are much more concerned about issues such as maintaining quality and improving productivity.
Productivity is also important to assemblers in the transportation equipment (83 percent) industry and the plastics and rubber products (72 percent) sector, which includes manufacturers of hoses, pipes, fittings and plumbing fixtures.
Assemblers in the transportation equipment industry (57 percent) are the most eager to invest in capital equipment. Other industries that expect to commit more resources to new production equipment in the near future include contract manufacturers (50 percent) and wood and furniture product (49 percent) manufacturers.
More than one-half (59 percent) of the 2013 State of the Profession respondents are actively involved in finding new production techniques. In particular, assemblers are exploring additive manufacturing and 3D printing.
More than one-quarter (26 percent) claim that their company will be using 3D printing, laser sintering and other additive manufacturing technology during the next 12 months.
Additive manufacturing “prints” an object from a digital file by depositing one layer of material on top of another, rather than starting with a piece of steel and cutting, sawing or milling it away. It allows companies to more easily manufacture complex shapes and structures that have been traditionally difficult to make.
For example, engineers at Pratt & Whitney are using additive manufacturing to create parts used in the new Bombardier regional jet. Instead of using traditional brazing to join tubes that are used in the manifold, they are building the tubes using 3D printing technology.
The U.S. Navy is interested in using 3D printers to create floating factories that can mass-produce spare aircraft parts onboard aircraft carriers. It’s also looking at ways to use additive manufacturing to make ammunition.
More than two-thirds (41 percent) of energy industry manufacturers claim they are using additive manufacturing. Other industries interested in the technology include electrical equipment and appliance manufacturers (40 percent) and transportation equipment manufacturers (40 percent).
Large manufacturers (companies with 1,000 or more employees) are much more likely to invest in additive manufacturing than small manufacturers (companies with less than 50 employees). One-quarter (26 percent) of respondents at large manufacturers plan to use 3D printing or laser sintering during the next 12 months vs. only 4 percent of small manufacturers.
ASSEMBLY magazine would like to thank all the respondents who participated in its 18th annual State of the Profession survey. The survey was conducted online in March 2013 by BNP Media’s market research division. It was sent to more than 14,000 randomly selected subscribers with an e-mail address.
The charts and tables in this report highlight the major data gleaned from the survey responses. On some of the questions, the response rate does not equal 100 percent due to rounding or surveys that contained one or more unanswered questions. In cases where multiple responses were allowed, the total may exceed 100 percent.
Special thanks to Andrea Littles for her assistance with online survey design, distribution and tabulation.