Over the last 12 months, the U.S. manufacturing industry experienced its largest job growth in more than 20 years. Manufacturers are adding high-wage jobs and producing trillions of dollars in technology products, food and beverage, transportation equipment, and other goods.

Despite its size and impact, perceptions still lag, with many believing manufacturing is laborious, low-wage work – an image that is far from the reality of today’s manufacturing industry. I often hear people say things like, “I can’t see myself working in manufacturing,” and, “My child shouldn’t pursue a career in manufacturing.”

We must work to update these outdated perceptions as today’s manufacturing industry is a highly-skilled, high-wage industry with opportunity for economic mobility.

Manufacturing is one of San Antonio’s largest industries with an economic impact of more than $40 billion per year and employment of more than 51,000 people. It is diverse and spans virtually every industrial product line.

According to an industry impact study by the San Antonio Manufacturer’s Association, manufacturers paid their employees an average salary of $57,500 in 2016 – 23 percent above the local average. Manufacturing workers are trained in technical equipment and electrical and mechanical skills, and they are compensated according to that high level of skill. Many employers offer training to encourage workers to gain more specialized skills that translate to more job opportunity and often higher pay.

While significant growth is a good sign for our local industry, leaders across the region are increasingly faced with filling critical positions in the manufacturing sector. SA Works, the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation’s workforce development team, published its first jobs report earlier this year to analyze the market demand by job posting and the respective education levels and skills required (and hired) in the information technology, healthcare, and manufacturing industries.

In the San Antonio region, manufacturing jobs are expected to increase by more than 8 percent from 2017-2022, outpacing the national projected growth rate of 3 percent.

The demand will continue to grow, and many are addressing entry barriers to allow more workers to seriously consider building a career in manufacturing. Of the top hiring occupations in manufacturing in San Antonio, eight out of 10 require a high school diploma or equivalent as the minimum level of education. While these positions are highly skilled, employers understand that these skills can be taught in the workplace. More importantly, manufacturers are looking for workers who are willing to learn new skills, solve problems, and be part of a team.

Many of these manufacturing skills can be transferred to other companies, giving employees the power to grow not only within their organization, but within the sector.

Consider large local employers Toyota and H-E-B: On the surface, food and automotive manufacturing don’t have much in common. But H-E-B and Toyota are recruiting talent with similar skill sets from the same pool to join their teams. While highly skilled, manufacturing employees are not limited to a single product line once they start working and gaining experience. The manufacturing industry offers room for career growth for those who commit to continued learning and skill development. Both youth who are about to complete their education and adults searching for a career change may not be aware of the opportunities that exist.

Education programs at local high schools and colleges have made great strides to build partnerships and align with industry demand to break down entry barriers and support a sustainable workforce pipeline in manufacturing.

The Texas Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education, for example, allows students to attend classes at Alamo Colleges while working at local employers such as H-E-B, CPS Energy, or Toyota. The earn-while-you-learn program means most students can graduate debt-free and with a job as an advanced manufacturing technician.

Alamo Academies offers an array of programs that allow high school students to get college credit through Alamo Colleges in advanced manufacturing, aerospace, heavy equipment, IT, and health professions. After completing the program, 94 percent of students from Alamo Academies enter higher education or high-wage careers in demand industries such as aerospace, manufacturing, information technology, and health.

San Antonio’s manufacturing industry has a 300-year history of steady growth. We are in a unique position to become a globally competitive industry leader with the right workforce to sustain our future growth. It’s up to industry partners like SA Works to help encourage more people to learn more about existing opportunities and so they might consider joining San Antonio’s manufacturing workforce.

The jobs are here. The training is here. The opportunity exists to begin a high-paying, stimulating career in manufacturing.

Oct. 5 is National Manufacturing Day. For San Antonio’s manufacturing industry, it’s a day to showcase its strengths and raise awareness of the opportunities that exist. To learn more about how San Antonio manufacturing employers are celebrating, click here. 

Avatar photo

Romanita Matta-Barrera

Romanita Matta-Barrera is executive vice president of the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation and executive director of SA Works.