Employment of metal and plastic machine workers is projected to decline 13 percent from 2014 to 2024. Employment declines stem from advances in technology and foreign competition.
One of the most important factors influencing employment of these occupations is the use of labor-saving machinery. Many firms are adopting technologies such as computer numerically controlled (CNC) machine tools and robots to improve quality and lower production costs. The switch to CNC machinery requires computer programmers instead of machine setters, operators, and tenders. Therefore, demand for manual machine tool operators and tenders is likely to be reduced by these new technologies, and conversely, demand for CNC machine programmers is expected to be strong.
The demand for metal and plastic machine workers is also affected by the demand for the parts they produce. Both the plastic and metal manufacturing industries face foreign competition that limits the orders for parts produced in this country. Some U.S. manufacturers have sent their production to foreign countries, reducing jobs for machine setters and operators. However, some companies are bringing jobs back to the United States from overseas, and this is expected to continue over the coming decade.
Workers who are able to operate CNC machines are expected to have the best job prospects. Workers who have an extensive background in machine operations, industry certifications, and good knowledge of the properties of metals and plastics should also have good job opportunities.
A high number of job openings should be created by the need to replace workers who leave these occupations.
Metal and Plastic Machine Workers
Percent change in employment, projected 2014-24
Total, all occupations
Metal and plastic machine workers
Note: All Occupations includes all occupations in the U.S. Economy. Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program