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Upskilling and downsizing in American manufacturing

For decades, manufacturing was a large and reliable source of employment, especially for workers with a high school education or less. However, after many years of job losses, the manufacturing workforce is no longer dominated by workers with a high school diploma or less. This report describes the changes to the US manufacturing industry’s workforce in three parts: (1) the major structural changes that drove manufacturing’s evolution, declining employment and rising productivity, which are tightly linked to automation, globalisation and the growth of a networked economy; (2) the shift towards a diverse workforce with a different balance of qualifications and; (3) the changing structure and loss of ‘good’ jobs in manufacturing, which varies by ethnicity and sex. The author concludes that an industry comeback, however welcome, would not lead to a dramatic return of the manufacturing workforce. Projections suggest that manufacturing is not expected to be a major job generator in the future. In fact, industry employment is expected to decrease by 253,200 net jobs, or about 2 per cent, during the next decade. This is a reality that must be understood by both policy makers and the public into the industry’s future.