Overall wage and salary employment in food manufacturing is expected to increase by 5 percent over the 2002-12 period, compared with 16 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. Nevertheless, numerous job openings will arise in many segments of food manufacturing, as experienced workers transfer to other industries or retire or leave the labor force for other reasons.
Job growth will vary by occupation but will be concentrated among food manufacturing workers-the largest group of workers in the industry. Because many of the sorting, cutting, and chopping tasks performed by these workers have proven difficult to automate, employment among handworkers will rise along with the growing demand for food products. Handworking 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 more processing takes place at the manufacturing level. Other production workers also will benefit from the shift in food processing from retail establishments to manufacturing plants.
Although automation has had little effect on most handworkers, it is having a broader impact on numerous other occupations in the industry. Fierce competition has led food manufacturing plants to invest in technologically advanced machinery to be more productive. The new machines have been applied to tasks as varied as packaging, inspection, and inventory control. As a result, employment will not increase as rapidly among some machine operators, such as packaging machine operators, as for industrial machinery mechanics who repair and maintain the new machinery. Computers also are being widely implemented throughout the industry, reducing employment growth of some mid-level managers and resulting in decreased employment for administrative support workers, but increasing the demand for workers with excellent technical skills. Taken as a whole, automation will continue to have a significant impact on workers in the industry as competition becomes even more intense in coming years.
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 peeled and cut carrots, microwaveable soups, or “ready-to-heat” 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 manufacturing workers to rise slightly over the next decade and will lead to significant changes throughout the food manufacturing industry.