As Even Manufacturing Jobs Require More Skills, Employers Foresee Labor Shortages

Susan Hall
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Top 10 In-Demand Tech Skills for 2011

I wrote earlier this week about CIOs' plans to drive company growth post-recession, but their difficulty in finding workers with the right skills to bring those plans to fruition. This post at would seem like a perfect tie-in, "To the 'Three R's' Add One More: Writhing."


But this post on the dearth of suitably trained workers isn't talking about IT, but manufacturing, utilities, energy, health care and other industries. My colleague Ann All wrote back in 2007 that factories increasingly need workers with computer skills. A lot has happened since then, especially for the U.S. automakers that are trying to reinvent themselves.


The CFO story points to a recent survey by AC Nielsen on behalf of Advanced Technology Services (ATS), a provider of outsourced factory maintenance, in which more than two-thirds of responding companies said they expect worker shortages to cost them at least $50 million. And one-third of those with revenues of more than $1 billion expect that number to top $100 million.


It also points out a trend in manufacturing, based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The number of job openings jumped by 45 percent between October 2009 and October 2010, but the number of actual hires rose by only 11 percent. While companies face a wave of upcoming retirements, the story says "few students today are pursuing technically oriented career paths." I wonder, though, whether that sentence refers to the "shop class" or "skilled trades" meaning of tech, rather than meaning computers.


It quotes Edward Gordon, an author and former college professor, saying:

Our young people do love technology. But they don't want to design, manufacture, repair, or manage it. They consider those jobs inferior and socially uncool.

(I would argue that they do want to design the latest cool gadget.)


Anyway, Gordon estimates that by 2020 there will be 123 million high-skill, high-pay jobs in the United States, but only 50 million Americans with the right education to fill them.


The story uses as an example Pennsylvania-based MI Windows and Doors, whose work force consists of lower-skilled people who assemble pre-manufactured parts. But CFO Don Doherty expresses trepidation about hiring the right work force in the future amid the company's plans to move to higher levels of automation, when it will need people to maintain the equipment.


Peter Cappelli, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, meanwhile, maintains that wages will go up, which will attract people to those jobs. He is quoted, saying:

The people who are making arguments about the skilled-labor 'shortage' are not thinking about this issue carefully. Many people don't understand that labor markets are like other markets: they adjust.

The question is whether that will lead to more jobs, such as those at MI Windows and Doors, being sent offshore.

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Jun 28, 2013 6:49 AM badnews bear badnews bear  says:
sorry for the necro comment, but it is cool you are one of the few who doesn't just mindlessly accept Edward Gordon's 'statistics'. I don't know what is up with him, but a certain plutocratic programmer and philanthropist is up to similar STEM doomsaying, and it is amazing how much plutocratic milage this 'philanthropist' gets out of his spin. Ok some of the spin is speculation on my part. I went to school in the 80's in Canada, and at the time the system seemed very influenced by Sputnik, with emphasis on Math and Science. But the presentation was boring, incoherent, and increased rote learing as students got older. Didn't help that I had undiagnosed ADHD-PI Back then I noticed the learning was really geared toward remembering it till the next test, which is pretty barbaric. Everybody learns higher math but very few can still do it within a short time after graduation. So I wonder if some of the plutocrat/Ed Deformers are pushing a similar barbarism on purpose, to produce a clueless working class who haven't learned to question anything. KIPP charter schools in particular are pretty disturbing, with more behaviorism than valuable learning going on. lol I ramble.. Reply

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