Manufacturing jobs on the rise in Benton, Franklin counties

Regional manufacturing jobs to grow 1.84 percent this year

Manufacturing jobs in Benton and Franklin counties are expected to grow at a faster rate than the state average as food manufacturing rebounds in 2019.

Locally, there are more than 8,100 manufacturing jobs, which accounts for about 7 percent of total nonfarm employment in 2018, according to the state Employment Security Department, or ESD.

In Kennewick, Pasco and Richland, total nonfarm employment increased by 3,192 jobs (2.8 percent) in 2018 over the previous year. Manufacturing jobs increased by 150, or nearly 2 percent, during the same period.

Statewide, manufacturing job estimates show an increase of 3,492 job, or 1.2 percent. Total estimated employment in the state was slightly over 3.4 million in 2018, with 287,225 of those positions qualifying as manufacturing positions.

For 2019, regional manufacturing jobs are projected to grow at a rate of 1.84 percent, while the rest of the state will continue a slow and gradual growth of 0.25 percent, according to the ESD.

Jeremiah Johnson, FruitSmart’s dry production supervisor, works the packaging line at the company’s Prosser warehouse. FruitSmart recently added dry production to its Prosser facility. Previously, the building was used solely for dry and frozen product storage.
Jeremiah Johnson, FruitSmart’s dry production supervisor, works the packaging line at the company’s Prosser warehouse. FruitSmart recently added dry production to its Prosser facility. Previously, the building was used solely for dry and frozen product storage.

Pasco boasts the most manufacturing jobs in the two-county area. The most dominant occupational group for manufacturing in the region? Production operations. The largest employing occupation? Packaging and filling machine operators and tenders.

Other positions increasing locally over the years are: welders, cutters, solderers and brazers; structural metal fabricators and fitters; machinists; and production workers. Jobs decreasing in the region include: inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers and weighers; and cutting and slicing machine setters, operators and testers.

The political climate can take a toll on manufacturing growth, with the biggest impact usually coming from consumer spending confidence, said Ajsa Suljic, the ESD’s regional labor economist. However, she also noted that food manufacturing tends to be affected by political actions.

“Manufacturers who export their products tend to feel the impacts at a greater rate than those who (sell) on the national level,” she said.

One of the main reasons for the decrease in manufacturing positions in general is automation. Agriculture and manufacturing are two of the leading sectors in automation adoption and innovation, Suljic said.

Advances in technology allow companies to cut labor costs, increase productivity and output, be more competitive and increase market relevance on the global scale. However, automation doesn’t mean employers aren’t hiring.

“Some of the most advanced automation in manufacturing has been quality control,” said Suljic, explaining that laser, sensor and visual detectors and sizer machines have perfected quality control for many years now. “(But) job automation can and has led to the creation of jobs in other areas, such as research and development, marketing, programming, software development and robotic management. As we look at population growth as the future labor supply, it points to an even greater need for automation for the jobs that are repetitive and don’t require as much human intellectual capital. The work force will need to, as a result of automation, engage more systematically with new machines as part of retooling of their skills as well as staying relevant in the work force.”

Some of the positions more immune to automation — especially in food manufacturing — are managerial, product development, marketing and maintenance, she added.

According to the National Manufacturers Association, or NMA, manufacturers contributed $2.33 trillion to the U.S. economy in the first quarter of 2018. For every $1 spent on manufacturing, $1.89 more is added to the economy, NMA reported. There are currently more than 12 million manufacturing workers in the United States, which accounts for 8.6 percent of the entire work force.

Even though the industry has fallen in favor of automation for manufacturing positions, Suljic said local manufacturers are having a hard time filling experienced supervisory or managerial roles.

“Most of the manufacturing employers are looking for skills, knowledge and abilities in individuals who are willing to work in teams, learn and develop on the job,” Suljic said. “The interest in manufacturing is much different than 20 to 30 years ago. Our work force will need to be trained for the future, which requires more training in science, technology, engineering and math than manual labor.”

To help introduce students and get them excited about careers in the field, schools such as the Tri-Tech Skills Center in Kennewick offers welding technology programs and Columbia Basin College in Pasco offers degrees in manufacturing technology.

The NMA reported that the average manufacturing worker in the United States earned $84,832 annually in 2017, including pay and benefits. The average worker in nonfarm industries earned $66,847 annually. Over the next decade, nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs likely will be needed nationally and 2 million are expected to go unfilled due to the skills gap, the NMA said.

Suljic said future careers in the field include stationary engineers and boiler operators, quality assurance and project development, branding and marketing and logistics, to name a few.

“Most of the time, to get a higher position, experience is needed along with education,” she said. “Individuals interested in manufacturing could plan out their careers of interest and follow the career ladder to their desired position, or have a clear sense of where they want to be 20 or 30 years down in their careers.”

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