Thursday, March 06, 2008

Guide 2 Careers Series: Manufacturing Jobs

In conjunction to our Employment Guide to Careers and the help of the Department of Labor Career Guide, I'll be doing a blog post series on different careers that are popular on This hopefully will give you insight as to what a particular job will entail, the types of qualifications and skills that you'll need to get the job and any other relevant information. Please feel free to comment or email suggestions as to what you'd like to see in this series.

Manufacturing Jobs: Machinery, Machine Operators, General Manufacturing

On the Job
Most manufacturing machinery is made of metal, which gives the end product strength and durability, but which necessitates specialized procedures in production. Each part needs to be designed to exacting specifications to ensure proper function of the finished product. Techniques such as forging, stamping, bending, forming, and machining are used to create each piece of metal, thousands of which then need to be welded or assembled together in the largest machines. At each stage of production and assembly, extensive testing takes place to maintain quality control standards. Due to the great variety of machinery produced by this industry, firms specialize in designing and producing certain types of equipment for specific applications.

Production workers account for over half of all jobs in the machinery manufacturing industry. First-line supervisors and managers of production and operating workers oversee all workers in the production process and ensure that equipment and supplies are available when needed. They usually report to industrial production managers, who watch over all activities on the factory floor.

Metal workers and plastic workers create all the various parts that are needed in the production and assembly processes. As production becomes more automated, the jobs of most metal and plastic workers are becoming more complex. Fewer workers simply operate machines; most are now also responsible for programming and performing minor repairs and maintenance on the machine tools.

Among the most skilled metal and plastic workers are tool and die makers, and machinery manufacturing has about 28 percent of the Nation’s jobs for these workers. Tool and die makers create precision tools and machines, often using computer-aided design software, that are used to cut, shape, and form metal and other materials to exact specifications. Operating computer-controlled machine tools, they produce devices, such as jigs and fixtures, to hold metal while it is being worked on. They also produce gauges and other measuring devices, and dies that are used to shape the metal.

Tools, dies, and jigs are used by machine tool cutting setters, operators, and tenders, metal and plastic who set up and operate machines that make parts out of the raw materials. Because most machines now operate automatically, machine tool operators primarily monitor the machine and perform minor repairs as needed.

Computer control programmers and operators manage the automatic metalworking machines that can mass produce individual parts. They also write programs based upon the specifications of the part that defines what operation the machine should perform.

Machinists produce precision parts that require particular skill or that are needed in quantities too small to require the use of automated machinery.
Welders, soldering, and brazing workers operate machines that join two or more pieces of metal together; they may also weld manually as well.

Once all of the parts have been made, it is the responsibility of assemblers and fabricators to put them all together to finish the product. Some assemblers specialize in one particular stage of the process, while others, such as team assemblers, work as a group and may contribute to an entire subassembly process. While there has been increased automation of the assembly process, many parts of the products still have to be put together and fastened by hand. When assembly is complete, painting workers apply paint or a protective coating to the exterior of the machine.

While quality control is a responsibility of all production workers, it is the primary focus of inspectors, testers, samplers, and weighers. These workers monitor the entire production stage, making sure that individual parts, as well as the finished product, meet the standards set by the company.

Benefits and Salary
The earnings of workers in the machinery manufacturing industry are relatively high, primarily because of the high productivity of workers in this industry. Weekly average earnings in 2006 for production workers in machinery manufacturing were between $568 and $729. Earnings vary by detailed industry segment and are usually based upon a worker’s particular occupation, experience, and the size of the company employing them.

Daily Routine & Work Environment
Most workers in machinery manufacturing work 8 hour shifts, 5 days a week. Also shift work varies depending on company. Some offer rotating shifts or regular shift hours. We've even seen options for 3 12-hour shifts with 4 days off. Overtime can be common, especially during periods of peak demand. As a result, the average production worker worked 42.4 hours per week in 2006. Opportunities for part time work are rare, some plants are capable of operating 24 hours a day, but some shifts are able to operate with a reduced workforce because of the automated nature of the production process.

Production workers in the machinery manufacturing industry generally encounter conditions that are much improved from the past. New facilities in particular tend to be clean, well lighted, and temperature controlled. Noise can still be a factor, however, especially in larger production facilities. Most of the labor-intensive work is now automated, but some heavy lifting may still be required. Some workers may also have to work with oil and grease or chemicals that require special handling.

Experience & Required Education
The composition of employment in machinery manufacturing continues to evolve as automation of labor-intensive tasks raises the skill level required of production workers. Nearly all jobs now require that entry-level workers have at least a high school diploma or GED equivalent. Employers also seek people who have good communication and problem solving skills, since new manufacturing processes, such as lean manufacturing, require workers to be able to perform many different tasks depending on where they are most needed. Strong basic mathematical skills are also essential.

Skilled production workers, such as tool and die makers and machinists, usually must have previous experience or must have completed a training program at a local college. Some companies also train workers entering the field in apprenticeship programs that can last between 1 and 5 years, depending on the specialty. These programs combine on-the-job training with classroom instruction, either within the company or at local technical schools. Apprenticeship topics include mechanical drawing, tool designing, programming of computer-controlled machines, blueprint reading, mathematics, hydraulics, and electronics. Workers also learn about company policies on quality control, safety, and communications.

Experienced workers may advance into higher skilled positions within their field or into supervisory positions. Because advancement is based on experience and merit, even those workers who enter in low skilled positions can advance to significantly higher skilled jobs by working to improve their skills.

Manufacturing jobs work well with people who are precise and have strong attention to detail. Those who enjoy getting their work out of the way can usually find a longer shift for 4 or 3 days a week and enjoy the rest of the week off. People who like constant change of pace or don't like working the same hours everyday can enjoy the rotating shifts. This is also great for people who like to work with their hands (heavy lifting, loading, packing) or for those who are mechanically inclined working with the machinery. Even computer programmers who have knack for engineering might enjoy creating the programs to get the machines to create a great product or part of a product.

Read more about Manufacturing Jobs.

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