The Bureau of Labor Statistics said that manufacturing job openings were up slightly, rising from 253,000 in January to 259,000 in February. This brings the job postings figure back to where it was in February 2012; although, there was a pickup in openings and then more tepid growth in the second half of 2012 and continuing into 2013. The high for job postings in the manufacturing sector last year was in March 2012 with 324,000 openings.
Meanwhile, net hiring has also been soft recently. In February, manufacturers hired an additional 228,000 workers, up from 219,000 in January. As noted last month, January’s hiring rate was the slowest observed since June 2009, suggesting a high degree of skittishness to bring new workers on in the sector. At the same time, manufacturing separations also rose, up from 215,000 to 223,000. Separations include layoffs, quits, and retirements.
There was net hiring, therefore, of 5,000 manufacturing workers in the month of February, only marginally higher than the 4,000-worker pace of January. Over the past four months, net hiring has stayed in the 4,000 to 5,000 range. This is well below where we would want manufacturing hiring to be. The average monthly gain in net manufacturing employment was 16,583 in 2011 and 12,750 in 2012, for instance.
The news for the larger economy was better. Net hiring increased from 125,000 in January to 216,000 in February. In addition, job postings rose from 3,611,000 to 3,925,000. This was the most job openings since May 2008, representing 2.8 percent of total employment.
Chad Moutray is chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.