Wages matter. It’s something everyone considers when thinking about their career.
It’s also one of the major reasons people are drawn to manufacturing work. Every year manufacturing industry employees report huge average salaries that draw new workers into the field. What these workers don’t realize is that not all manufacturing jobs are created equal. Certain types of workers, including welders, make much more than their peers in other manufacturing career paths.
When manufacturing jobs are lumped together, these higher salaries skew wage averages upward and mask the disparity between three “tiers” of manufacturing workers.
At the top of these three tiers are engineers, researchers, and scientists responsible for developing, designing and inventing production methods, equipment and products.
The middle tier is occupied by machinists, technicians and other skilled workers, including welders. The oft-debated skills gap crisis has seen wages increase for skilled workers in different industries. In fact, welders with special skills and certifications demand especially high salaries relative to other welders in this tier.
The real surprise comes in the bottom tier of manufacturing jobs, the assemblers and basic production workers. These manufacturing employees receive significantly lower wages compared to the higher tiers and have limited upward mobility.
The truth is, these jobs now rank in the bottom half of all jobs in the United States. Bottom-tier wages barely keep pace with inflation, and between 2003 and 2013, real wages for assemblers and production workers actually declined by 4.4 percent.
Additionally, manufacturers increasingly rely on temporary workers, which help to mask the wage data presented in official industry wage reports. This practice hides just how low bottom-tier wages have dropped, and how limited upward mobility has become.
Thus, these third-tier jobs get a false reputation for being “good jobs,” working mostly on the reputation of the higher tiers. The reality, however, is that as many as 600,000 manufacturing workers are stuck at the bottom with wages hovering around $12 per hour.
Meanwhile, the unexpected trap of third-tier manufacturing jobs lures away potential skilled workers. In other words, workers attracted to manufacturing by the promise of good wages and upward mobility may bypass the training and specialization that can actually guarantee those benefits and get stuck in the bottom tier.
This phenomena widens the skills gap by providing fewer skilled workers, including welders. It also helps keep bottom tier wages low by increasing the number of unskilled workers in the job pool.
The wage differential obscured by reports that combine the three tiers of manufacturing workers, highlights the importance of learning skilled trades like welding, both for individuals and the industry as a whole.
To find out about welding employment and learning opportunities in your area contact your local AWS Section. For online courses, podcasts, virtual conferences, and other digital tools to help you advance your welding career visit AWS Learning.
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