American factories demand white-collar education for blue-collar work. New manufacturing jobs that require more advanced skills are driving up the education level of factory workers who in past generations could get by without higher education, an analysis of federal data by The Wall Street Journal found.
Within the next three years, American manufacturers are, for the first time, on track to employ more college graduates than workers with a high-school education or less, part of a shift toward automation that has increased factory output, opened the door to more women and reduced prospects for lower-skilled workers.
U.S. manufacturers have added more than a million jobs since the recession, with the growth going to men and women with degrees, the Journal analysis found. Over the same time, manufacturers employed fewer people with at most a high-school diploma.
Employment in manufacturing jobs that require the most complex problem-solving skills, such as industrial engineers, grew 10% between 2012 and 2018; jobs requiring the least declined 3%, the Journal analysis found…
Specialized job requirements have narrowed the path to the middle class that factory work once afforded. The new, more advanced manufacturing jobs pay more but don’t help workers who stopped schooling early. More than 40% of manufacturing workers have a college degree, up from 22% in 1991.
Looking ahead, investments in automation will continue to expand factory production with relatively fewer employees. Jobs that remain are expected to be increasingly filled by workers from colleges and technical schools, leaving high-school graduates and dropouts with fewer opportunities. Manufacturing workers laid-off in years past also will see fewer suitable openings.
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