Approximately 1.04 million Americans were employed in the computer electronic equipment manufacturing industry in 2018, as reported by the Department of Labor (DOL). This reflects an overall decline of employment in this industry. As of 2008, there were more than 1.2 million employees in the industry. The DOL projects that the manufacturing sector as a whole will experience employment declines of 0.5 percent through 2028. Contributing factors to the decline include the continuing automation of manufacturing processes and the trend for U.S. electronics companies to move their production and assembly operations to lower-wage countries, such as those in the Pacific Rim.
Growth will also vary among the different types of jobs in the industry. More growth is expected among the professional specialty occupations, such as scientists, engineers, and computer systems analysts. This is because of the increasing sophistication of technology and manufacturing processes as well as the competitive nature of the industry, which leads to strong efforts in research and development and the greatly reduced life cycle of products in the industry. Production positions will decline due to increasing technological advancements in manufacturing and outsourcing of positions to plants that are located in foreign countries.
The electronics industry is extremely susceptible to economic conditions, both within the United States and around the world. Global competition is increasing, and many U.S. manufacturers are joining in partnerships with foreign companies, most notably Japanese companies, in order to succeed. The environment is extremely competitive and is expected to remain so in the future.
Employment opportunities within individual companies will be significantly affected by those companies' efforts to remain competitive. Many companies reduced their workforces during the 1990s in order to have leaner staffs and less operating expenses. Radical changes are not unusual as a company drops one product line, adds another, or gears down after a large project. For example, a large company may lay off a large number of workers in one area of the company, while at the same time it may hire new employees for a different area. Electronics professionals can expect to change jobs and companies several times during their careers. In order to succeed, professionals will need to acquire multiple skills, have a strong technical foundation, and stay up to date on changing technologies.
The use of electronic components in automobiles has been growing steadily since the early 1990s and that trend has increased dramatically in the 2000s due to the steadily rising use of computers and other elements in vehicles. In the late 1970s, electronic parts made up only about 1 percent of the total cost of an automobile. According Statista, this figure had reached 35 percent by 2010 and was projected to total 50 percent by 2030.
By 2019, electronic automotive systems had increased in number and complexity. Vehicles featured systems responsible for preventing accidents, such as lane departure warning, road departure assist, and lane centering assist systems. More robust electronic components also were needed to provide on-board Internet connectivity and support vehicle-to-vehicle communication systems that wirelessly exchanged data about things like position and speed between nearby cars and trucks. The automotive industry's focus on developing autonomous vehicles was another example of the growing importance of electronic components in vehicles.
Electronic navigational systems are much more common in the automotive industry, as well as many other industries. These systems are based on technology developed by the Department of Defense for its global positioning system, a satellite-based navigational system used for military purposes (and now also available to the general public). Many automobiles are now equipped with electronic GPS systems, as well as computers that automate accessory use such as headlights, heat, and air-conditioning. Another electronic navigational technology being developed is an enhanced vision system that allows airplane pilots to "see" through weather through the use of electronic sensors that create high-resolution radar imagery.
The advent of digital-only broadcasting in the United States in 2009 led to the rapid adoption of HDTV (high-definition television) products. HDTV broadcasts use digital technology to produce twice the picture resolution of traditional televisions. HDTV can also display computer graphics and show movies in their original widescreen height-to-width ratio. This industry sector continues to evolve rapidly. A consumer research group reported that, in 2015, 81 percent of U.S. households had at least one high-definition TV set, and about 52 percent had multiple HDTVs. This is a jump compared to just five years before, when less than 50 percent of U.S. households had only one HDTV, and only 17 percent of households had several HDTVs.
As HD technology continued to evolve, so did the cutting-edge electronics available to consumers. By 2019, 4K or ultra HD TVs (offering four times the resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 HD TVs) were standard. An estimated 71 percent of North American homes were expected to have ultra HD TVs by 2023, according to Broadband TV News.
The computer industry is a leader in creating technologically advanced products. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2019, an estimated 90 percent of U.S. adults had Internet access. That year, 73 percent of American adults used broadband Internet access at home. Computer and semiconductor companies are constantly working on developing lighter, smaller, and more efficient electronic components that can be used in computers and related products. Before a product even comes out, engineers and scientists are working on creating a faster and better version.
The global semiconductor industry generated a record $468.8 billion in sales for 2018, according to the Semiconductor Industry Association, supported by unprecedented demand. For the first time in history, unit shipments exceeded the 1 trillion mark. The SIA forecast strong long-term growth for the industry. Emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and virtual reality were expected to stimulate demand well into the future.
Nanotechnology is leading to many changes in this industry and remains at the forefront of innovation. The Nanoelectronics Research Initiative (NRI), managed by the Semiconductor Research Corporation, is the premier U.S. R&D semiconductor program. The NRI supports university research to find a replacement beyond the limits of current semiconductor technology.
Electronic manufacturing suffered serious disruptions in 2020 and 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic that began in Wuhan, China, in late 2019. As countries implemented travel bans, international trade suffered and supply chains broke down, meaning raw materials and parts needed for manufacturing finished products were delayed or unavailable. The overall economic slowdown that came with the pandemic contributed to declines in sales for some electronics goods while demand soared for others, such as video-gaming systems, because companies could not fill all orders. Some workers in this field faced unemployment, and many companies saw smaller profits or even losses than in previous years, leaving the post-pandemic future uncertain.
The circuit board and electronic component manufacturing sector in the U.S. consists of about 2,703 businesses that employ 141,864 people, as of early 2021. The research group IBISWorld anticipated a 14.6 percent decline in revenue in 2020 for the circuit board and electronic component manufacturing industry in the U.S. The rollout of the vaccine in 2021 will bolster the economy and increase consumer spending. This sector is expected to have average growth through 2026 as post-pandemic demand rises for electronics, appliances, and computers. IBISWorld states that during this same time frame, "production of electronic components and inputs are forecast to continue following downstream electronics manufacturing to countries where labor and production costs are more competitive, hindering growth for domestic manufacturers." In the coming years domestic demand is expected to be met through imported electronic and circuit board components.
The global consumer electronics manufacturing industry, valued at $1 trillion in early 2021, was projected to have a slight decrease in revenue in 2020 due to supply chain disruptions because of the pandemic. IBISWorld reports that there are 9,029 businesses with total employment of more than 17.4 million people in the global consumer electronics manufacturing industry. Moderate growth is expected through 2025. In post-pandemic times, the increase in competition coupled with decline in prices for industry products will limit growth in the consumer electronics manufacturing sector. On a positive note, IBISWorld reports that the industry "is expected to expand more rapidly than the previous five-year period amid anticipated accelerations in global consumer spending and per capita income."