Plastics industry is hiring, but skills gap remains

July 14, 2021
The Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS) says several factors are at work as the industry faces a labor shortage.

This content is provided by the Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS) and appears in the July 2021 issue of Plastics Machinery & Manufacturing.


The plastics industry employed over a million workers in 2019. When considering the employees in upstream industry suppliers to the plastics industry, total employees increase to 1.5 million. Between 2012 and 2019, employment in plastics manufacturing rose 1.6 percent — higher than the 1 percent increase in all of U.S. manufacturing. While our industry experienced faster employment growth compared to the total manufacturing of the economy, tight labor supply  particularly skilled workers  has been an ongoing issue. 

— PLASTICS Chief Economist Perc Pineda, Ph.D. 

Our Industry Is Hiring  

The plastics industry is hiring. However, the skills gap for manufacturing has been widening in the U.S. This can be attributed to five key factors. 

The first is demographicsThe number of new entrants in the labor market has been rising slower than those retiring or leaving the workforce.  

Second, the U.S. educational curriculum is not in sync with the workforce of the future. As technology enhances manufacturing processes and workers’ skills are not updated, the skills gap will continue to widen.  

Third, advances in technology  which will continue to create new jobs or occupations that did not exist before  have intensified labor demand in the U.S. economy.  

Fourth, regional economic development plays a critical role in supporting continued labor market flexibility as new graduates are hesitant to move into rural areas and would rather remain in big cities.  

Fifth, workers will respond positively to prospects of career advancement along with other economic incentives.  

Wages in the plastics industry are competitive, and the job opening forecast for our industry is promising. The plastics industry relies on engineers throughout its value chain. That is why an average of 71,500 job openings for engineers is being projected annually between 2016 and 2026. 

The 15,700-plus establishments of the U.S. plastics industry kept working during the pandemic to produce life-saving materials and products that the health care industry and consumers needed in response to COVID-19. However, the plastics industry lost jobs as the economy shut downAlthough plastics machinery manufacturing saw a 1.7 percent increase in employment, molds manufacturing employment decreased 2.8 percent.  

The pandemic has exacerbated the shortage of workers for the manufacturing sector. PLASTICS’ current forecast of job growth is dismal, starting with a projected 2.4 percent increase in plastics product manufacturing employment and a 3.7 percent increase in molds for plastics employment this year.  

Workforce development is and will remain a complex issue. It is national and macroeconomic in scope. But the approach to resolving it, particularly in the short run, is local or industry-focused. This also makes it a microeconomic issue, so stay tuned.  

PLASTICS provides members with industry insights like this, as well as exclusive macroeconomic analysis and forecasts year-round for a tailored perspective on what might be around the corner. Additionally, industry and trade data are always available at members’ fingertips. Learn more at