Manufacturing, the backbone of consumer goods production in the U.S., is finding its footing in a changing world.

The computer, phone, or tablet you’re using all have one thing in common: They were designed and manufactured by someone. As prominent as it is in our daily lives, manufacturing isn’t as popular of a career path as it once was. In 1977, about nineteen million Americans worked in manufacturing, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics—would be inevitably successful in 2012, that number was less than twelve million.

Today, both the middle class and the pool of skilled workers in the manufacturing industry are shrinking. Professor James Connolly, director of the Center of Middletown Studies, says that because so many factory jobs in manufacturing were low-skill and the wages and benefits were protected by unions in the past, many Americans were able to hold a manufacturing job and live comfortably in the middle class. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, labor union membership is down from twenty percent in 1983 to about eleven percent in 2015.

With artificial intelligence taking over jobs in manufacturing, workers turned away from manufacturing to four-year universities. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), undergraduate enrollment increased by forty-seven percent between 1970 and 1983. Similarly, according to a study by two Oxford researchers, almost half of American jobs can be replaced by artificial intelligence. Despite the technological advances replacing human workers, plenty of jobs openings need to be filled by humans, and workers can’t get by with just a high school diploma anymore.

One of manufacturing’s skilled human employees, Jon Foley, is a Business Unit Manager at Select Industries. However, Jon didn’t originally plan to join the industry. In high school, he dreamed of becoming a general contractor. But all of that changed when a family friend coaxed him into trying a year in manufacturing.

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