Although the US manufacturing sector and its production and operations job functions continue in long-term decline, the industry is still a critical force in our economy in many important niches. For example, the US auto-parts manufacturing industry is made up of about 4,000 companies with combined annual revenue of about $180 billion, according to Hoovers. Large creators of jobs in auto-parts production and operations include ArvinMeritor, Dana, Delphi, Lear, Visteon and the automotive division of Johnson Controls.
Production/Operations Job Market
On the front lines of production and operations, metal and plastic machine workers held nearly 940,000 jobs in 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). There were more than 200,000 industrial engineers and just over 150,000 industrial production managers. All three jobs are expected to grow slower than the average for all occupations between 2010 and 2020.
Considering that it produces goods rather than services, the market for production and operations jobs is roiled by surprisingly complex forces. On the one hand, automation and offshore outsourcing continue to eliminate US jobs in production and manufacturing. On the other hand, the production and operations job opportunities that remain here are increasingly complex and require much broader and deeper skills than they did a few decades ago. The bottom line for those seeking production and operations employment: Highly skilled workers will remain in demand.
Common production and operations careers include production worker, machine operator, assembly operator, industrial manufacturing production scheduler, production engineer, production supervisor, production manager, operations manager, production operations manager, plant manager and director of operations.
Metal and plastic machine workers earned median wages of $31,540 in May 2011, according to the BLS. Median pay for industrial production managers was $88,190; the 90th percentile earned $148,670. The median industrial engineer salary was $77,240.