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Manufacturing was bright spot in Mass. economy last year

By Erin Ailworth
Globe Staff / February 9, 2012
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The state’s manufacturers were hiring last year, advertising more job openings than any other industry sector except health care, according to a study released yesterday by the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute.

The large number of job openings is another sign of manufacturing’s rebound from the recent recession, but also an indication that companies are having difficulty finding qualified workers, UMass researchers said.

“They say it’s hard for them to find the right skilled workers,’’ said Martin Romitti, director of economic and public policy research at the Donahue Institute.

Local manufacturers advertised nearly 73,000 jobs in 2011 - up 40 percent from the previous year - but relatively few were assembly line-style production jobs. The vast majority of openings came in areas such as sales and customer services, computer and information technology, and managerial positions. The health care sector, meanwhile, posted just over 76,000 openings.

Romitti, said the report highlights possibilities for job seekers looking to switch to a new industry. Employers said they are having problems matching the skills of available manufacturing workers to the jobs, providing an opportunity for people from other fields who can figure ways to transfer skills to manufacturing - such sales and marketing professionals who can help a company reach new markets and customers.

Nearly half of the jobs available in Massachusetts manufacturing, dominated by advanced manufacturing, require some college or post-secondary education.

“Increasingly, manufacturing jobs are requiring higher levels of skills and education, with firms needing workers with analytic and technical management skills, on the shop floor as well as in executive offices,’’ said Kenneth Poole, chief executive of the Center for Regional Economic Competitiveness, a nonprofit in Arlington, Va., which partnered with UMass on the study.

Manufacturing has been a bright spot in the state’s recovery, adding jobs at a slightly faster pace than overall employment in the state. Manufacturing employment grew by 4,600 jobs, or 1.8 percent last year, compared with the state job growth rate of 1.3 percent. Manufacturing employs about 260,000 workers, just under 10 percent of the state’s employment base.

Andre Mayer, a senior vice president at the Associated Industries of Massachusetts Inc., a trade group, said the number of job openings show that manufacturing is doing better, but an increase in advertised positions doesn’t necessarily translate into more hiring.

Companies are cautious after weathering the recent recession, which forced many manufacturers to make painful cuts to their workforce, Mayer said. Though the outlook is improving, uncertainties over how the debt crisis in Europe might affect the US economy are making manufacturers even more wary. Some are only hiring when they find the perfect person.

“In this market, employers are really very reluctant to hire people who aren’t absolutely job ready,’’ he said.

Unfortunately, Mayer added, many of today’s job seekers “have the training but not the experience [or] they have the experience, but it’s not recent, not quite up-to-date.’’

Erin Ailworth can be reached at eailworth@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ailworth.

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