Faced with technological advances and the continued need to cut costs, manufacturers increasingly emphasize continuing education and cross-train many workers-that is, they train workers to do more than one job. This has led to a change in the profile of the industry’s workers. Standards for new hires are much higher now than in the past. Employers increasingly require at least a high school diploma as the number of unskilled jobs declines. Manual dexterity will continue to be necessary for many production jobs, but employers also look for employees with good communication and math skills, as well as an aptitude for computers, problem-solving, and critical thinking. Because many plants now emphasize the team approach, employees interact more with coworkers and supervisors to determine the best way to get the job done. They are expected to work with much less supervision than in the past and to be responsible for ensuring that their work conforms to guidelines.
Opportunities for training and advancement vary considerably by occupation, plant size, and sector. Training programs in larger auto and light truck assembly plants usually are more extensive than those in smaller parts, truck trailer, and motor home factories. Production workers receive most of their training on the job or through more formal apprenticeship programs. Training normally takes from a few days to several months and may combine classroom with on-the-job training under the guidance of more experienced workers. Attaining the highest level of skill in some production jobs requires several years, however. Training often includes courses in health and safety, teamwork, and quality control. With advanced training and experience, production workers can advance to inspector or more skilled production, craft, operator, or repair jobs.
Skilled production workers-such as tool and die makers, millwrights, machinists, pipefitters, and electricians-normally are hired on the basis of previous experience and, in some cases, a competitive examination. Alternatively, the company may train inexperienced workers in apprenticeship programs that last up to 5 years, and combine on-the-job training with classroom instruction. Typical courses include mechanical drawing, tool designing and programming, blueprint reading, shop mathematics, hydraulics, and electronics. Training also includes courses on health and safety, teamwork, quality control, computers, and diagnostic equipment. With training and experience, workers who excel can advance to become supervisors or managers.
Motor vehicle manufacturers provide formal training opportunities to all workers, regardless of educational background. Manufacturers offer some classes themselves and pay tuition for workers who enroll in colleges, trade schools, or technical institutes. Workers sometimes can get college credit for training received on the job. Subjects of company training courses range from communication skills to computer science. Formal educational opportunities at postsecondary institutions range from courses in English, basic mathematics, electronics, and computer programming languages to work-study programs leading to associate, bachelor's, and graduate degrees in engineering and technician specialties, management, and other fields.