New data out this morning from the Labor Department underlines the severity of the workforce crisis facing manufacturers as job openings in the manufacturing sector jumped to a new all-time high of 522,000 (this October data is up from 485,000 in September). Durable goods firms reported the most job postings in October (332,000) since January 2001, with openings for nondurable goods manufacturers (189,000) also higher for the month. In addition, there were 384,000 hires in October, with 345,000 separations (which include quits, layoffs and retirements). As a result, there was net hiring of 39,000 workers in the manufacturing sector in October, the fastest pace in 14 months.
As yet another sign of just how tight the labor market is right now, for the eighth consecutive month there were more job openings in the U.S. economy (7,079,000 in October) than the number of people looking for work (6,075,000 in October and 5,975,000 in November). In addition, the number of nonfarm payroll job openings was not far from the all-time high (7,293,000) set in August. Along those lines, total quits in the nonfarm sector in October (3,514,000) remained highly elevated, even with some easing from the all-time high recorded in August (3,648,000). This is a sign Americans are feeling more comfortable leaving their job—likely to pursue other opportunities.
While the manufacturing sector is doing very well overall—as evidenced by the high optimism levels recorded in recent NAM Manufacturers’ Outlook Surveys—the sector also continues to consistently report strong levels of concerns about the difficulties in finding enough skilled workers in the very same surveys. This workforce challenge threatens the future of the industry if left unsolved, which is why so many are working so hard to solve it. The NAM’s social impact arm, The Manufacturing Institute, has launched a wide array of programs to inspire more veterans, women, youth and others to imagine themselves as manufacturers and to support and upskill those already in the sector. In addition, just last week, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy rolled out a five-year strategic plan on STEM, which is yet another example of the kinds of initiatives that will be needed to ultimately close the skills gap once and for all.