That's one unknown that could have a big influence on Illinois' manufacturing health this year, Challenger said. "It'll be important for the state's economy to see consumer spending on autos hold up in 2013," he said.
New factory jobs, though, typically require a heavy dose of training to deal with an increasingly technical world. Community colleges now offer a wide range of manufacturing-related credentials in anything from logistics to quality control, said Jim Nelson, vice president of the Illinois Manufacturers' Association.
"Everybody who wants to work in today's manufacturing environment needs some post-secondary education," he said. "The K-12 system does go a long way to preparing students for the world of work, but because we now rely so much on robotics, computer animated systems."
It's the same way in the health care industry, said Joel Shalowitz, a physician, professor and director of health industry management at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.
"We are really entering an era where somebody's going to need a higher level of training — and not just education, but training," Shalowitz said.
Even with reasonably strong job creation, many of the post-recession jobs tend to pay lower wages than jobs lost to the downturn. The median hourly wage in Illinois in 2007 was $15.80, according to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics. Adjusted for inflation, that's the equivalent of $17.14 in 2011, the most recent year for which the BLS has data. But the actual hourly wage was $16.95.
A series of recent stories by The Associated Press found a similar trend around the country. Half the 7.5 million U.S. jobs lost to the Great Recession were in industries that pay middle class wages but only 2 percent of the 3.5 million gained back are in such industries. Seventy percent, in fact, are in low-wage businesses. Technology has done away with many jobs.