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Nature of the Work
* Virtually all precision assemblers worked in plants that manufacture durable goods.
* Increasing automation and internationalization of production will offset most increases in employment that would have resulted from industrial growth.
Precision assemblers are highly skilled workers who assemble a wide range of finished products from manufactured parts or subassemblies. They produce intricate manufactured products, such as aircraft, automobiles, computers, and small electrical and electronic components. Unlike some assemblers who perform simple, repetitive tasks, precision assemblers generally perform a series of more complex tasks.
Precision assemblers involved in product development must know how to read and interpret engineering specifications from text, drawings, and computer-aided drafting systems. They also must know how to use a variety of tools and precision measuring instruments. Some experienced assemblers work with engineers and technicians, assembling prototypes or test products.
Precision assemblers may work on subassemblies or the final assembly of finished products or components of a vast array of products. For example, precision electrical and electronic equipment assemblers put together or modify prototypes or final assemblies of items such as missile control systems, radio or test equipment, computers, machine-tool numerical controls, radar, sonar, and appliances. Precision electromechanical equipment assemblers prepare and test equipment or devices, such as dynamometers, ejection seat mechanisms, and tape drives. Precision machine builders construct, assemble, or rebuild engines and turbines, and office, agricultural, construction, oil field, rolling mill, textile, woodworking, paper, printing, and food wrapping machinery. Precision aircraft assemblers put together and install parts of airplanes, space vehicles, or missiles, such as wings or landing gear. Precision structural metal fitters align and fit structural metal parts according to detailed specifications prior to welding or riveting.
As technology changes, so too does the manufacturing process. For example, flexible manufacturing systems include the manufacturing applications of robotics, computers, programmable motion control, and various sensing technologies. These systems change the way goods are made, and affect the jobs of those who make them. The concept of cellular manufacturing, for example, places a greater premium on the communication and teamwork of "cells" than it does on the old assembly line process. As the U.S. manufacturing sector continues to evolve in the face of growing international competition, the nature of precision assembly will change along with it.
The working conditions for precision assemblers varies both from plant to plant and from industry to industry. Electronics assemblers, for example, sit at tables in rooms that are clean, well lit, and free from dust. Assemblers of aircraft and industrial machinery, however, usually come in contact with oil and grease, and their working areas may be quite noisy. They may also have to lift and fit heavy objects. In many cases, the increased use of robots or other pneumatically powered machinery has improved working conditions by lowering the overall noise level of the facility.
Most full-time assemblers work a 40-hour week, although overtime and shift work is fairly common in some industries. Work schedules of assemblers may vary at plants with more than one shift. In some plants, workers can accept or reject a certain job on a given shift, usually in order of seniority.
Virtually all of the 380,000 precision assembler jobs in 1996 were in plants that manufacture durable goods. One-third of all jobs involved assembly of electronic and electrical machinery, equipment, and supplies, including electrical switches, welding equipment, electric motors, lighting equipment, household appliances, and radios and television sets. Three-tenths of all jobs involved assembly of industrial machinerydiesel engines, steam turbine generators, farm tractors, mining and construction machinery, and office machines. Other industries employing many precision assemblers were transportation equipment (aircraft, autos, trucks, and buses) and instruments manufacturing.
The following list shows the wage and salary employment of precision assemblers in 1996 by industry.
Promotion to precision assembler often comes from the ranks of workers in lesser skilled jobs in the same establishment. Outside applicants may be hired if they possess suitable experience. The ability to do accurate work at a rapid pace is a key job requirement. A high school diploma is preferred.
Applicants need specialized training for some precision assembly jobs. For example, employers may require that applicants for electrical or electronic assembler jobs be technical school graduates or have equivalent military training.
Good eyesight, with or without glasses, is required for assemblers who work with small parts. Plants that make electrical and electronic products may test applicants for color vision, because many of their products contain many differently colored wires.
As precision assemblers become more experienced, they may progress to jobs that require more skill and be given more responsibility. Experienced assemblers may become product repairers if they have learned the many assembly operations and understand the construction of a product. These workers fix assembled articles that operators or inspectors have identified as defective. Assemblers also can advance to quality control jobs or be promoted to supervisor. Experienced precision assemblers also may become members of research and development teams, working with engineers and other project designers to design, develop, and test new product models. In some companies, assemblers can become trainees for one of the skilled trades. Those with a background in math, science, and computers may advance to programmers or operators of more highly automated production equipment.
Little or no growth in employment of precision assemblers is expected through the year 2006. Increasing automation and internationalization of production will offset most increases in employment that would have resulted from industrial growth. As manufacturers strive for greater precision and productivity, work that can be performed more economically or more accurately by automated equipment will be transferred to these machines.
Recent advancements have made robotics more applicable and more affordable in manufacturing. The introduction of robots should continue, raising the productivity of assembly workers and adversely affecting their employment.
The effects of automation will be felt more acutely in some industries than in others. Flexible manufacturing systems are expensive, and a large volume of repetitive work is required to justify their purchase. Also, where the assembly parts involved are irregular in size or location, new technology is only now beginning to make inroads. For example, much precision assembly in the aerospace industry is done in hard-to-reach locations unsuited for robotsinside airplane fuselages or gear boxes, for exampleand replacement of these workers by automated processes will be slower and less comprehensive than replacement of other workers such as welders and painters. On the other hand, automation will continue to make more inroads in the precision assembly of electronic goods, where one-third of these workers are employed.
In addition, many producers send their subassembly or component production functions to countries where labor costs are lower. This growing internationalization of production, promoted by more liberal trade and investment policies, results in shifts in the composition of this country's manufacturing workforce. For example, decisions by American corporations to relocate assembly in other nations may lead to employment reductions for precision assemblers in some industries. A freer trade environment will lead to growth in the export of goods assembled in the United States and will result in the creation of additional jobs in other industries. On balance, the changes will restrain precision assemblers' employment growth.
Because of the little employment growth expected, almost all job openings will arise as workers transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force.
Earnings information is somewhat limited for precision assemblers. Assemblers of electrical and electronic products had median weekly earnings of $340. Most earned between $268 and $437; the lowest 10 percent earned less than $215 a week while the highest 10 percent earned over $577. In addition to earnings, most precision assemblers receive benefits such as health and life insurance, a pension plan, paid vacation, and sick leave.
Many precision assemblers are members of labor unions. These unions include the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers; the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America; the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America; the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; and the United Steelworkers of America.
Information about employment opportunities for assemblers is available from local offices of the State employment service and from locals of the unions mentioned earlier.
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