Indiana’s shift from manufacturing to service jobs is challenging

Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly

During this election season, we’ve heard a lot of rhetoric about bringing manufacturing jobs back to America.

With about 17 percent of the Hoosier workforce employed in manufacturing, the thought of losing these jobs due to technology and/or globalization can sound threatening.

In several northeast Indiana counties, where manufacturing accounts for nearly 50 percent of jobs, the industry is essential to the economic viability of the area and its local residents. But, inevitably, employment in the U.S. is shifting away from traditional manufacturing jobs. Even jobs within manufacturing are changing, requiring more brains than brawn.

This is not necessarily a bad scenario – although it proves challenging for regions such as ours to shift to a new “normal.”

The service industry is seeing some of the largest growth as the American economy shifts into its post-industrialization age.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that from 2014 to 2024, manufacturing in the U.S. will decline from 8.1 to 7.1 percent. During the same period, service industry jobs are expected to increase from 80.1 to 81 percent. This may appear to be an incremental change, but compared to 2004, where manufacturing accounted for 9.9 percent of employment and services represented only 76.8 percent, you begin to see a trend.

Since 1939, the number of people employed by the services industry grew by 500 percent, while manufacturing grew more than 100 percent to its levels in the 1980s, but has since declined.

In addition to the growth of service sector jobs — particularly those in health care, finance and insurance — a new trend in the industry is bringing back services that had disappeared for a number of years on a mass scale. Granted, some of these jobs do not require the same level of skill of some manufacturing jobs.

One such example of an old service coming back to the market is the offering of delivery and curbside pickup services by grocers, coops and online retailers.

It wasn’t too many decades ago that a local resident could call in a weekly grocery order and employee at the grocer would gather all of the items, deliver the groceries to the resident’s doorstep and send a bill. Now, in some locations, you can fill a grocery cart online, schedule a time for pickup and a smiling person will walk out of the store with your groceries and load your vehicle with them.

We are a different society today, one that often sees two working parents rushing to balance work, family, friends and a myriad of other obligations. But service jobs are being created to accommodate us as we look for ways to simplify and enjoy our lives.

We shouldn’t feel too threatened by these changes. The real challenge is ensuring that the new jobs replacing the old still provide workers with a wage on which they can live and build a future.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association.