While opinions vary as to the degree of progress or success for the U.S. economic recovery since the great recession, there is an important debate within the debate about the nature of the jobs available in today’s market. Cerasis, a third-party logistics company, has tracked this issue for many months, and recently outlined a new “crisis” for the manufacturing economy: “… hundreds of thousands of unfilled positions,” or what it calls “the Industries Skills Gap.”
Cerasis is not alone.
The National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) has taken up the same cause in behalf of its members, for whom it provides education and training for precision manufacturing jobs. “There are an estimated 99,500 projected job openings for machinists and 117,100 projected job openings for industrial maintenance technicians nationally through 2020,” according to NIMS executive director Jim Wall.
Recently NIMS unveiled a new website for employers seeking to fill open jobs: www.Nimsready.org provides information, tools and how-to guides to teach employers about industry-recognized credentials, and how to implement them among their workers.
To expand awareness of Industries Skills Gap within the expanding U.S. ecomomy, Cerasis issued some information it drew from Tulsa Welding School from March 2013 showing a year-to-date gain of 30,000 jobs, 71,000 annually. “The sector is certainly growing, but there’s a shortage of labor to fill its appetite,” according to Cerasis, which matters significantly as Generation X passes toward middle-age and Generation Y becomes the pool of new hires.
From 2007 to 2009, employment in the skilled trades as a whole declined 13 percent. However, the industry rebounded 6.2 percent from 2010 to 2012, with demand projected to continue increasing dramatically in the next 15 years as +77 million “baby boomers” retire from the workforce. To put this in perspective, workers between the ages of 45 and 54 make up 23.6 percent of the U.S. labor force. In the skilled trades, that number is a whopping 32.4 percent – nearly one third. Will there be enough qualified workers to fill the void come 2030? Or will retiring baby boomers take the industry with them?
Note though, U.S. manufacturing is a different landscape than many people perceive, certainly different from the lunch-pail/time-clock era of the mid-20th century. In 2005, manufacturing jobs were only 15 percent of the entire U.S. workforce. While that figure illustrates an evolving economy, it doesn’t show the more important issue. A talent-shortage survey from 2009 showed the nation’s most sought-after workers were 1) electricians, 2) carpenters/joiners, and 3) welders. These top spots are all jobs requiring skilled (and credentialed) workers.
“Are the skilled trades that hard to break into?” Cerasis asked. “Or is the cost of tuition to trade schools turning people away?”
To the contrary, many people can draw the rewards of skilled-trades education in the skilled trades in a fraction of the time it may take to earn a traditional degree from a four-year university. More than that, vocational schools are on average much more affordable than four-year bachelor’s degrees.
For the aspiring welders, electricians, carpenters, and other valued trade workers, there are ample opportunities, starting with the offerings from tailored trade school programs. There are an estimated 3 million trade jobs in the United States now vacant, including over a 500,000 in manufacturing. Job security is strong; there is always a need for welders, machinists, electricians, mechanics, and other skilled tradesmen.