New Study Forecasts 4,000 Local Manufacturing Jobs Through 2016

By Bill Dries

A new report on manufacturing jobs in the Memphis area by the Workforce Investment Network and the Greater Memphis Chamber as well as Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell shows rapid growth through 2016.

It also points to the challenge that those manufacturing employers face in finding enough of the right workers for the rejuvenated sector that was once a dominant part of the Memphis economy.

Manufacturing is making a return but on different terms than its peak in the mid 1970s. Today’s factories and plants hire fewer workers and are filled with complex machines with computer programming that requires more than basic training on how to operate one machine that performs one function.

The 2012 analysis released Monday, June 3, shows manufacturers in the Memphis area planned to hire more than 4,000 employees through 2016 at an average annual pay of $32,180.

That’s a direct wage impact of $128.7 million on the local economy.

“This trend diversifies the Memphis economy that has historically been dominated by logistics and distribution, healthcare and tourism,” reads the executive summary of the report. “The rapid growth presents an opportunity and a challenge to provide a skilled manufacturing workforce.”

A survey of employers that is part of the report was completed by 40 Memphis area companies. Company leaders also included details about the jobs and specific skills needed for them.

“Respondents reported few effective job announcement placement strategies,” the summary continued. “Few employers reported working with educational institutions to recruit employees.”

The report recommends the kind of specific training that leaders at WIN and Southwest Tennessee Community College specifically formulated in response to problems in finding workers for the Blues City Brewing plant as well as the new Electrolux and Mitsubishi plants.

The curriculum in which the companies had their own executives in the classroom during training has been praised by executives at all three companies for producing the kinds of local workers they are searching for.

The report also recommends that companies donate expertise and equipment to help with training and that educators create a better coordinated set of credentials for associate degrees and other certification that allow an employee to advance further beyond a single level of training. The coordination is referred to as “stackable credentials.”

And the report recommends a marketing campaign to promote the availability of manufacturing jobs in Memphis.