Employment of metal and plastic machine workers is projected to grow 6 percent from 2010 to 2020, slower than the average for all occupations. Employment will be affected by advances in technology, changing demand for the goods these workers produce, foreign competition, and the reorganization of production processes.
One of the most important factors influencing employment growth in these occupations is the use of labor-saving machinery. Many firms are adopting new technologies, such as computer-controlled machine tools and robots, to improve quality, lower production costs, and remain competitive. The switch to computer-controlled machinery requires computer programmers instead of machine setters, operators, and tenders. The lower-skilled manual machine tool operator and tender jobs are more likely to be eliminated by these new technologies because the computer-controlled machinery does the work more effectively.
The demand for metal and plastic machine workers also is affected by the demand for the parts they produce. Both the plastic and metal manufacturing industries face stiff foreign competition that is limiting the orders for parts produced in this country. Some U.S. manufacturers have recently sent their production to foreign countries, limiting jobs for machine setters and operators.
Despite slower than average employment growth, a number of these jobs are expected to become available for highly skilled workers because of an expected increase in retirements, primarily of baby boomers, in the coming years.
In addition, workers who have a thorough background in machine operations, certifications from industry associations, and a good working knowledge of the properties of metals and plastics should have the best job opportunities.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition