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Study: Skilled-Worker Shortage Is Exaggerated

Tuesday, 16 October 2012 07:51 AM

Concerns that a skills gap is keeping unemployment rates high are overblown, a study conducted by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) finds.

Many companies complain they want to hire workers, but can’t find enough with the right skill set needed to do the job, especially in the manufacturing sector.

That gap in U.S. manufacturing today is more limited than many believe and won’t prevent a projected resurgence in U.S. manufacturing by the end of this decade, but more severe shortages could develop down the road unless steps are taken now, the study found.

Editor's Note: The ‘Unthinkable’ Could Happen — Wall Street Journal. Prepare for Meltdown

The United States is short 80,000 to 100,000 highly skilled manufacturing workers, a shortfall that represents less than 1 percent of the nation’s 11.5 million manufacturing workers and less than 8 percent of its 1.4 million highly skilled manufacturing workers, according to the study.

Most shortages are local in nature and don’t cover nationwide swathes of the industry.

Plus, many companies are being too selective and don’t want to pay well.

“Shortages of highly skilled manufacturing workers exist and must be addressed, but the numbers aren’t as bad as many believe,” said Harold Sirkin, a BCG senior partner and co-author of the study.

“The problem is very localized. It’s much less of an issue in larger communities, where supply and demand evens out more efficiently thanks to the bigger pool of workers.”

More investment is needed to train and develop the necessary skills to put more people to work though the future still looks bright.

“[T]here’s little reason to believe that the U.S. cannot remain on track for a manufacturing renaissance by 2020,” Sirkin added.

That investment needs to take place now, as many workers in the manufacturing arena will retire soon.

The average U.S. high-skilled manufacturing worker is 56 years old, the study found, and when many clock out for the last time, the shortage of highly skilled manufacturing workers could worsen to approximately 875,000 machinists, welders, industrial-machinery mechanics and industry engineers by 2020.

“The good news is, a wide array of programs already exist in which schools, companies, governments, and nonprofits are working together to address these needs,” Michael Zinser, a BCG partner who leads the firm’s manufacturing practice in the Americas, said.

“In the years ahead, it will be critical to find ways to extend these programs to reach a broader population.”

Similar studies find that the U.S. economy will lose ground to foreign competitors if steps aren’t take to arm the work force with the skills needed in today manufacturing sector, including a report published recently by Deloitte.

“Today, there is a significant and growing mismatch between the country’s demand for talent and its current supply. The type of talent demanded today — and needed tomorrow — is increasingly either outdated or out of stock,” the study’s authors William Eggers and John Hagel wrote in their report.

The need for highly skilled workers is growing and growing rapidly, but supply is short as the nation’s graduates are stocking up on the wrong or outdated skills.

“For instance, the skills that graduates acquire after four years of college will soon have an expected shelf life of only five years, meaning that skills learned in school can become outdated long before the student loans are paid off,” they wrote.

The Deloitte study also noted that the U.S. workforce is aging, adding that by 2018, some 40 million working Americans will be 55 years or older, a 5.8 percent increase over the period of a decade.

“While headlines are filled with news about high unemployment, a surprising number of industries and regions are finding it nearly impossible to obtain qualified workers,” Eggers and Hagel wrote.

Editor's Note: The ‘Unthinkable’ Could Happen — Wall Street Journal. Prepare for Meltdown

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Concerns that a skills gap is keeping unemployment rates high are overblown, a study conducted by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) finds.
Tuesday, 16 October 2012 07:51 AM
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