New data released this week by the Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that job openings in the U.S. manufacturing sector have hit an all-time high in October. This follows a disappointing jobs report released by the Labor Department earlier in the month which found the U.S. manufacturing sector added just 27,000 jobs in November, down slightly from October’s gain of 38,000.
Manufacturers hired at a much brisker pace in the late spring and early summer as industrial firms resumed production, but the sector is still 599,000 jobs shy of pre-pandemic levels.
The Job Openings and Labor Turnover report, out last week however, finds that the number of job openings in the sector has risen to a record high of 525,00 or 4.1%. We’re going to dig into the details on that in a moment, but first let's check in with the latest employment summary from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Last month, we reported that manufacturers were adding jobs across a wider span of industries. For much of the recovery period, job gains had largely been led by the transportation equipment industry and this trend broke in October, with jobs added across multiple cateogries, rather than concentrated in a select few.
However, in November, we once again saw job levels jump significantly in the transportation equipment industry. Transportation equipment added 17,800 jobs, while motor vehicles and parts added 15,400, contributing to a 22,000-job gain in the durable goods manufacturing category. Meanwhile, most other durable goods categories saw little to no change in employment.
Looking at non-durable goods, industries in this category added a marginal 2,500 jobs. Leading gains were plastics and rubber products, up 4,600 jobs, and printing and related support activities, which added 1,800 jobs.
Interestingly, job openings in non-durable goods manufacturing have skyrocketed. Next, we’ll explore the details of the latest Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey.
The Department of Labor’s most recent Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) released December 9th found there are currently 525,000 unfilled positions in manufacturing, which includes 290,000 job openings, or 3.7% in durable goods manufacturing and 230,000, or 4.9% openings in the non-durable goods category.
Going back to the year 2000, which is the earliest point at which JOLTS data is available, job openings in the U.S. manufacturing sector have only crossed the 500,000-mark just one other time -- in November 2018. For all of 2018 and 2019, job openings have hovered above the 400,000 mark, in sharp contrast to the years prior. Between the year 2000 and 2017, job openings in manufacturing averaged 273,000.
Breaking down the report, job openings in non-durable goods manufacturing hit 4.9% or 230,000 jobs in October. This ranks as an all-time high for that category, and much of 2020 has seen job openings above the 4% mark.
Non-durable goods includes industries like food products, paper products, plastics and textile manufacturing. Currently the category accounts for 4.6 million of the nation’s 12.2 million manufacturing jobs.
The 290,000 job openings or 3.7% in durable goods manufacturing was the highest it has been since November 2018, when openings hit 3.8%. Durable goods manufacturing includes industries like transportation equipment, electronics and fabricated metals. It encompasses the largest share of the nation’s manufacturing workforce, currently employing 7.6 million workers.
Prior to the pandemic, manufacturers were already challenged by tight labor market and a persistent skills gap. COVID-related workforce issues have now thrown another obstacle into the mix. Many companies are now looking for outside help to staff the factory floor, while others are looking to invest in more automation.
Employment services, in fact, added 40,000 jobs in November, while temporary help services added 32,200 jobs, according to the most recent labor report. You can read more about 2021 forecasts for the staffing industry here.
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