Food Industry Job Outlook
Overall wage and salary employment in food manufacturing is expected to experience no change over the 2008-18 period, compared with 11 percent employment growth projected for the entire economy. Despite the rising demand for manufactured food products by a growing population, automation and increasing productivity are limiting employment growth in most industry segments. Nevertheless, numerous job openings will arise within food manufacturing, as experienced workers transfer to other industries or retire or leave the labor force for other reasons.
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Fierce competition has led food manufacturing plants to invest in technologically advanced machinery to become more productive. The new machines have been applied to tasks as varied as packaging, inspection, and inventory control, but the processing of animal products remains a labor-intensive activity that is resistant to automation efforts. As a result, employment will decrease for some machine operators, such as packaging and filling machine operators and tenders, while employment growth is expected for industrial engineers and industrial machinery mechanics, who are responsible for the design or repair and maintenance of new equipment. Computers also are being widely implemented throughout the industry, streamlining administrative functions, but also requiring that all workers, including production workers, develop technical skills and a comfort level in reading and understanding digital readouts and instructions. This will result in decreased employment for administrative support workers, such as order clerks, but increasing the demand for production workers, such as food batch-makers who have excellent technical skills.
Food manufacturing firms will be able to use this new automation to better meet the changing demands of a growing and increasingly diverse population. As convenience becomes more important, consumers increasingly demand highly processed foods such as pre-marinated pork loins, peeled and cut carrots, microwaveable soups, or ready-to-cook dinners. Such a shift in consumption will contribute to the demand for food manufacturing workers and will lead to the development of thousands of new processed foods. Domestic producers also will attempt to market these goods abroad as the volume of international trade continues to grow. The increasing size and diversity of the American population has driven demand for a greater variety of foods, including more ethnic foods. The combination of expanding export markets and shifting and increasing domestic consumption will help employment among food processing occupations to rise over the next decade and will lead to significant changes throughout the food manufacturing industry.
Job growth will vary by occupation but will be concentrated among production occupations—the largest group of workers in the industry. Because many of the cutting, chopping, and eviscerating tasks performed by these workers have proven difficult to automate, employment among handworkers will rise along with the growing demand for food products. Hand-working occupations include slaughterers and meat packers and meat, poultry, and fish cutters and trimmers, whose employment will rise as the consumption of meat, poultry, and fish climbs and as more processing, in the form of case-ready products, takes place at the manufacturing level. Other production workers, such as food batch-makers, also will benefit from an increasing population and increased demand for more convenient, prepackaged foods.
Unlike many other industries, food manufacturing is not as sensitive to economic conditions as other industries. Even during periods of recession, the demand for food is likely to remain relatively stable and the demand for processed food may even increase. While factors such as animal diseases, currency fluctuations, adverse weather, and changing trade agreements often affect short-term availability of various food products, long-term availability will remain steady.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Career Guide to Industries, 2010-11 Edition
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