May 10, 2012

Where The Jobs Are

Political, economic, social, and technological change can alter the employment landscape in a nanosecond, either creating or eliminating jobs. If you fail to keep your eye in the ball you are going to be smacked in the face by some new reality.

Your career health requires knowing what is growing… What the next new innovation will be and thus where the jobs will be.

Manufacturing is one of the fastest growing areas of the economy in the US right now. This is amazing considering that the sector shed tons of jobs over the course of the recession. According to the US Department of Labor, manufacturing employment continued to trend up adding 16,000 jobs in April of 2012, with job growth in fabricated metal products adding 6,000 jobs and with machinery manufacturing adding another 5,000 jobs. Since its most recent employment low in January 2010, manufacturing has added 489,000 jobs, largely in durable goods manufacturing.

The Economist, in the April 21st edition did a special report on Manufacturing and Innovation calling the digitization of manufacturing the third industrial revolution. "It will allow things to be made economically in much smaller numbers, more flexibly and with a much lower input of labor, thanks to new materials, completely new processes such as 3D printing, easy-to-use robots and new collaborative manufacturing services available on line."

According to The Economist, "America remains a formidable production power. Its manufacturing output in dollar terms is now about the same as China’s but it achieves this with only 10% of the workforce deployed by China."

Manufacturing workers of today are not on the factory floor. They are in offices – designers, computer & IT specialists, accountants, logistics experts, and technical marketing reps. These jobs require business or tech degrees. Manufacturing today is also creating jobs outside of the factory in the vast supply chain that feeds to and from manufacturing.

We are talking about high paid technical jobs when we now talk about manufacturing jobs. Manufacturing firms are much more inclined to create new products and new innovations according to The Economist. "Manufacturing makes up 11% of America’s GDP, but it is responsible for 68% of domestic spending on research and development."

Jobs are created because something changes. Jobs are coming back in US manufacturing after decades of loss. For two decades the industry could not produce goods cheaply enough to compete with Japan, Mexico, South America, the Philippines, and China. Digital manufacturing is changing everything. American manufacturing is roaring back because of innovation.

Plenty of industries have come and gone, replaced by disruptive technologies. Everything is now digital, with amazing functionality: cameras, wristwatches (Pebble, Sony SmartWatch), iPods, smart phones, cloud computing, smart meters, even refrigerators. New innovation constantly replaces old technology. Think about the next wave. Laptops will probably be replaced by an iPad. Wait, they already are…

To understand the impact of economics on job creation vs job elimination think about the wreckage in the solar industry. Economics and politics are creating significant instability in the industry. The global price war is giving the entire industry heartburn. Declining prices brought on by Chinese competition, and the sudden drops of government subsidies are causing significant disruption. In addition, hydraulic fracking has brought down the price of natural gas, further changing energy industry economics.

Germany, the largest consumer of solar energy systems, stopped all government subsidies in early 2012. The recession also wracked the industry, as financing for solar projects disappeared. Solydra and Abound Solar are poster children for the political attack on government subsidies. Both companies received huge government backed loans just before declaring bankruptcy.

Although lower prices on photovoltaic panels have been great for consumers it has imperiled solar panel manufacturers as they watch profits slip away. The global shakeout in the solar industry started in 2009, intensified in 2011, and continues in 2012. Some of the solar industry casualties include Solyndra, First Solar, Energy Conversion Devices, Abound Solar, Solar Millennium, BP Solar, Solon, Stirling Energy Systems, OptiSolar.

Paying attention to what is happening in the world around you is essential for your career health. You need to constantly update your understanding of what is growing and where innovation is happening because that is where the job growth will be. Fail in this mission and you are going to find yourself caught by a pink slip.