The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a sharp uptick in job openings in manufacturing in March, from 271,000 in February to 326,000 in March. The increased number of job openings occurred among both durable and nondurable goods manufacturers. This trend extends to the economy as a whole, with a net increase of 315,000 job openings overall. This accounts for 2.7 percent of the total workforce, up from 2.5 percent in February.
Despite the positive news on job postings, manufacturing hiring in March actually fell by 3,000 workers from 260,000 to 257,000 for the month. (Part of this decline could be due to seasonal factors, as the level of hiring rose for both durable and nondurable goods industries when non-seasonally adjusted data are used.) Manufacturing separations also fell, from 235,000 to 225,000. As a result, these figures suggest a net hiring increase of 32,000 workers in March, up from 25,000 in February.
These numbers point to additional hiring in the months ahead, especially as hiring has not kept up with job postings. This is consistent with both a rise in manufacturing output as well as continued struggles among manufacturers with attracting the right talent. The Manufacturing Institute estimated last year, for instance, that there were 600,000 unfilled jobs due to the skills gap. This is something echoed by manufacturers across the country.
Hiring levels remain low overall, currently at 2.2 percent of the manufacturing workforce. Even with recent gains in manufacturing employment – 167,000 in just the last five months – we still have a long way to go to make up for past losses.
Chad Moutray is chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.