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Most manufacturing jobs are dead ends, study finds

A welder takes measurements on the third floor of a hotel construction site. Photo: Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

The rise of automation is hurting middle-skills jobs — those that require some training beyond a high school degree but not a bachelor's degree.

The bottom line: Not all middle-skills jobs are created equal. Some entry-level positions — human resources assistant or computer support specialist — are full of opportunities for advancement and a middle class lifestyle. In other sectors, like manufacturing, 62% of these jobs are dead ends, per a new report by JFF and Burning Glass Technologies provided first to Axios.

What's happening: Technology is rapidly changing the nature of middle-skills jobs, and employers, educators and policymakers are still playing catch-up, Manjari Raman, program director of Harvard Business School's Project on Managing the Future of Work, tells Axios. Those with high school diplomas and vocational or associates degrees should be well-equipped to do middle-skills jobs, but curriculums have not kept up with tech trends, she says.

By the numbers:

  • Researchers analyzed 4 million resumes of middle-skills workers with at least five years of experience and divided jobs into three categories: 1) lifetime jobs, which don't offer opportunities for advancement but remain sustainable sources of income 2) springboard jobs, which have pathways for promotions, and 3) static jobs, typically lower-paying positions with high turnover that don't often lead to careers.
  • In the health care sector, researchers found that 5% of jobs were springboards and 55% were static.
  • In business, 80% were springboards and just 1% were static.
  • In information technology, 84% and 0%.
  • In manufacturing, 0% of jobs were career springboards and 62% were static.

What this means: A dental hygienist works in a lifetime job, while a manufacturing inspector's job is static. Neither have much scope for advancement, but the dental hygienist has career longevity.

  • 77% of dental hygienists' jobs were stable, though only 1% had room for advancement, researchers found. Median wage for these jobs was $34.77.
  • 39% of inspector's jobs were stable, and only 2% advanced from those jobs. Median wage for these jobs was $17.31.

Some good news: 37% of the middle-skills workforce is in business and IT, where there's ample opportunity for advancement.

Be smart: Manufacturing has been hit the hardest due to automation, "but I can't think of a single job that hasn't been impacted," Raman says. Whether you're unloading goods at Walmart or working at a travel agency, "everyone is interfacing with technology and expected to do more than their parents and grandparents did in the same jobs."