Manufacturers hire in tech and management

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PITTSFIELD -- Manufacturers are hiring again in Massachusetts, but not in the traditional sense.

Bay State companies last year advertised 72,996 openings in the manufacturing sector, which was second only to health care. But only 4,036 of those positions were for traditional production occupations such as machinists, assemblers, and quality inspectors, according to data compiled by the University of Massachusetts' Donahue Institute and the Center for Regional Economic Competitiveness.

"It really signifies a new era," said Martin Romitti, the director of economic and public policy research at the Donahue Institute. "And yet it's an era that's been coming on for quite a few years now.

"The point of the report was not only to look at manufacturing, but to look at it this time from information from posted job advertisements to see what employers are looking for in a skill set. We're seeing a much broader array of occupations."

Among Massachusetts manufacturers, the greatest percentage of advertised job openings were in the computer equipment sector at 28 percent, followed by positions in pharmaceutical and medicine at 24.7 percent. The most sought-after occupations by state manufacturers included sales and customer service representatives, computer and information technology-related positions, and managers.

"There's a whole spectrum of opportunities in manufacturing," Romitti said.

Data specific to Berkshire County was not included in the report, but Romitti said that only 12 percent of the state's manufacturing is located in Western Massachusetts. The majority of the high-tech manufacturing concerns, information technology businesses, computer firms, and companies that work in the defense industry are located in other parts of the state, he said.

"Western Massachusetts and the Berkshires are less concentrated in those areas; they're making paper or metal," Romitti said. "Those aren't shrinking, but they're not on a rapid growth pace."

All production openings combined accounted for just 5.5 percent of state job postings in manufacturing last year, according to the report, and no single production occupation cracked the top 10. The most advertised position among the traditional occupations was production workers at 17.3 percent, followed by inspectors and first line supervisors at 14.9 percent.

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The percentage of job openings among computer controlled machine tool operators in the metal and plastic industries was 9.8 percent, the fourth highest on the list.

Don Rochelo, the owner of Apex Resource Technologies of Pittsfield, who is also president of the Berkshire Applied Technology Council, isn't sure the data provides the entire picture on state manufacturing.

"I have the feeling that they're not capturing everything in terms of real manufacturing jobs," said Rochelo, whose company engineers, designs and manufactures injection molding products.

But Bill Mulholland, the director of workforce development at Berkshire Community College, believes the report shows how manufacturing has begun to change.

"Manufacturing has gotten so mechanized, so computerized that it's only run by a few people," he said. "It's incredibly lean."

He believes the preponderance of non-production openings in manufacturing comes from companies that are beginning to rebound.

"A lot of this is restoring employment that was laid off," Mulholland said. "During the layoffs in 2008 and 2009 that hit all sectors, one area that was hit pretty hard was sales and marketing. You clear the decks well in a recession.

"This is what manufacturing is going to look like from now on," he added. "It's going to be very lean on the floor.

"There's a smaller number of people doing many technical things, and as a result, productivity has skyrocketed in those companies."


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