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U.S. factories desperate for workers, even as ranks of jobless remains high

WORK LIFE
By Reuters | Apr 4th 2021 | 2 min read
By Reuters | April 4th 2021
WORK LIFE

Matt Arnold just spent Sh539,523 ($5,000) to run help-wanted ads for his company’s five trailer factories scattered from Pennsylvania to Utah.

“We hired two from the ads,” said Arnold, just a fraction of the 125 he needs to get back to full strength of 673 workers. Half the welding jobs at his Texas plant are open, for instance, creating a bottleneck in an operation that builds trailers on metal frames.

U.S. manufacturers have long grumbled about labor shortages, but the past year has proven particularly frustrating.

As the pandemic pushed millions out of work, most from service industries such as hotels and restaurants, many factories were pushed into overdrive by surging demand for everything from pickup trucks to plastic bags. And yet high jobless rates have not translated into workers flocking to open positions on assembly lines.

On Friday, the Labor Department said 916,000 jobs were created last month, the most since last August, including 53,000 manufacturing positions. That was the highest number of new factory jobs in six months.

The report’s manufacturing diffusion index, a measure of the breadth of hiring across some 75 goods-producing industries, registered one of its highest readings ever.

Manufacturing employment suffered a much less severe blow than service sector jobs last spring when COVID-19 first brought the economy effectively to a standstill. About one of every 10 factory jobs were eliminated in the shutdowns versus roughly one of every six service jobs. Factory employment is 4 per cent below pre-pandemic levels, a deficit of 515,000 jobs, versus 5.5 per cent for overall U.S. employment, with a total shortfall from February 2020 of 8.4 million positions.

Other indicators also point to a tight labor market at factories. Earlier this week, the Institute for Supply Management said its index for national factory activity jumped to its highest reading in 37 years in March, with its gauge of manufacturing employment rising to its highest level since February 2018.

One fabricated metal company quoted in the report said, “A lack of qualified machine and fabrication shop talent” has made it hard to keep up with demand.

UKG, which provides time management for small and mid-sized companies, said employee shift work at U.S. manufacturers was up 3.4 per cent in mid-March from mid-February, outpacing a 2.6% increase across all industries.

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