Even If Their Jobs Disappear, Manufacturing Workers Will Still Thrive

Manufacturing is, by all accounts, an industry in transition. On the one hand it’s been framed as America’s dying industry, declining steadily from its peak in the late 1970s as the engine of economic growth. On the other, it’s been rebounding lately, with a 10% increase in employment to date since bottoming out in 2010.

Automation, which has long been manufacturing’s bugaboo, continues to pose an existential threat to workers in the industry. There’s also the question of how the Trump administration’s tariffs on steel and aluminum will affect Manufacturing jobs. Between politics and technology, oh, and don’t forget globalization, it’s no surprise people are worried. 

No matter your take on the status of the Manufacturing industry, one fact remains: there are seven million fewer people employed in the industry today than there were in 1979. This figure is incentivizing former manufacturing workers to explore new career possibilities for a number of reasons. If you once worked the assembly line and are now ready for something new, you may have more options than you think, according to our data.

Alternative Industries for Manufacturing Workers

Today’s manufacturing workers have a wealth of skills that are transferable to other industries, some of which are experiencing a dire labor shortage.

We combed through hundreds of thousands of Manufacturing jobs posted to ZipRecruiter over the past year and determined the skills that employers consider paramount to these jobs. Then we cross-referenced those skills with the top 10 in-demand skills for every industry to determine which industries manufacturing workers could most easily transition into. We also included the top job in each of those industries, based on the number of postings over the past three months for mid-skill jobs.

Top Transfer IndustriesPercentage of Top Skills Shared with Manufacturing Top SkillsThe Top Job
1. Construction80%Construction experience, electrical experience, blueprint readingHVAC Service Technician
2. Engineering80%Troubleshooting, technical skills, electrical experienceField Service Engineer
3. Energy and Environment70%Communication skills, customer service, troubleshootingLine Service Technician
4. Technology60%Technical skills, communication skills, troubleshootingWeb Developer
5. Automotive50%Troubleshooting, customer service, electrical skillsMaintenance Mechanic
6. Healthcare50%Communication skills, flexibility, supervisionMedical Assistant
7. Retail30%Customer service, communication skills, flexibilityRetail Merchandiser
8. Business30%Customer service, flexibility, communication skillsAdministrative Assistant
9. Finance and Insurance30%Communication skills, customer service, detail orientedProperty Inspector
10. Transportation and Storage20%Forklift experience, customer serviceExpeditor

Our analysis showed Construction to be the easiest industry for Manufacturing transplants to join. We found Manufacturing workers already have 8 out of the top 10 skills most often required by Construction employers. Jobs in Engineering had just as many skills in common with Manufacturing, and jobs in the Energy and Environment field were not far behind.

This is great news for both workers and employers, given that all three top transfer industries are growing, and labor is in short supply throughout most metro areas in the country. Plus, wages for Construction workers are growing rapidly, outpacing the national average by two full percentage points as of May.

The Best (and Worst) Cities for Manufacturing Transfers

Knowing which job to transition to doesn’t do much good if you don’t know where the jobs are. That’s why we compiled a list of the five metro areas with the most and least opportunity for jobs similar to manufacturing.

We looked at the ZipRecruiter Opportunity Index—the ratio of jobs to jobseekers—for each industry on our list in the top 50 metro areas by population. We then calculated an average of the ratios to come up with one unique score showing the overall level of opportunity for Manufacturing transfers in each area.

Metros with the Most Transfer OpportunityAverage Transfer OpportunityMetros with the Least Transfer OpportunityAverage Transfer Opportunity
Buffalo, NY2.7Orlando, FL0.4
Minneapolis, MN1.9Las Vegas, NV0.3
Portland, OR1.7Hartford, CT0.3
Providence, RI1.7Houston, TX0.3
San Jose, CA1.6Riverside, CA0.3

The metros with the greatest career transfer opportunity are spread throughout the U.S., from coast-to-coast, and the Midwest. Most of the metros in the top five boast about two available jobs for every job seeker. But Buffalo, NY, the metro in the top spot, has an average of nearly three jobs for every applicant, with most of the opportunity being concentrated in the Technology and Business industries.

Opportunity levels were low in every industry in each of the low-opportunity transfer metros. Where there were good levels of opportunity it tended to be in the industries with the fewest skills in common with Manufacturing, such as in Retail and Finance, rather than Construction and Engineering, which were well-represented in the top metros.

With the possible exception of Minneapolis, the best cities to transfer your manufacturing skills are not exactly known for being Manufacturing industry hubs, unlike Riverside, Hartford, and Houston, all of which are home to many manufacturing plants. And there’s the rub. You may have to move twice: both to a new industry and to a new town.


Written by

Jeffery Marino is a Los Angeles-based writer who previously covered emerging job market trends using proprietary ZipRecruiter data.

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