Where will the jobs be as the economy gets back on track? The Wall Street Journal recently explained the idea of a jobless recovery, which is something we have been hearing about in the news. Their explanation is pretty much that unemployment may continue in the lowest-skilled groups because (I presume) technology is creating productivity improvements that make the lowest-skilled workers less necessary.



Where will the jobs be as the economy gets back on track? The Wall Street Journal recently explained the idea of a jobless recovery, which is something we have been hearing about in the news. Their explanation is pretty much that unemployment may continue in the lowest-skilled groups because (I presume) technology is creating productivity improvements that make the lowest-skilled workers less necessary.

Another recent report on a survey of 920 manufacturing and wholesale distribution executives indicates that in spite of the workforce reductions, these respondents struggle to find workers with the skills required by today’s advanced manufacturing environment. About 30% of the respondents report the need for engineers, manufacturing technicians and supervisors. One of the report’s conclusions is that “the demand for skilled workers in the face of current levels of unemployment underscores the lack of technological skills in the current workforce.”

Joe Lamacchia, author of a brand new book called Blue Collar & Proud of It, discusses the reasons behind this skill vacuum and points readers to careers where jobs will continue to be plentiful. As the title would indicate, Lamacchia believes that too many people are encouraged to pursue college even if it may not be the best career path for them. Over the past decades, this has created a need for skilled jobs that may not require a college degree. Don’t be deceived – many blue-collar (BC) jobs involve highly technical machinery and computers, not just manual labor.

The author discusses the president’s plan to create 2.5 million new jobs by 2011 for infrastructure projects. As my editorial last November indicated, there certainly is a need for infrastructure improvements nationwide. Assuming they materialize, many of these jobs will be BC.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that between 2004 and 2014 more than twice as many BC job openings will exist than those requiring a college degree. Canada estimates that by 2020 the country will face a shortage of one million skilled workers. While these projections may have been affected by the current recession, the percentage is still likely to be accurate.

In our industry, the American Welding Society says that the U.S. faces a potential shortage of 200,000 skilled welders by 2010. They say that half of the nation’s welders may retire in the next few years. The “baby-boomer effect” is taking its toll on welding and many other BC professions. Overall, as much as 35% of the workforce could be retiring in the next five years. It is also predicted there could be a shortage of 110,000 truck drivers by 2014.

Lamacchia also mentions that the growth of environmental jobs will provide BC opportunities. Current plans for new nuclear plants could create 25,000 jobs in the next five years. Let’s remember that many of these jobs are not only highly skilled but highly paid. The median salary for an electrical technician at a nuclear plant is $67,500, and the salary for a reactor operator is $77,800.

The projection for jobs in the alternative-energy field is from 3-10 million in the next 10 years. Needless to say, many of these will be BC jobs. I wouldn’t want to invest my career on this number of jobs materializing, but from hybrid-car technicians to solar-panel installers, the potential for BC job growth certainly exists. The Apollo Alliance identified 10 possibilities where jobs will be needed. A few of these are the modernization of our county’s electrical infrastructure, renewable-energy development and factory efficiency modernization.

As you consider a BC career for yourself, family member or friend, Blue Collar & Proud of It could be a good resource. The book gives details on a number of different trades. In the section on welders, for instance, Lamacchia discusses the need for skilled people. He gives a practical example of a successful welder, describes the work and work setting, and discusses the training and certification requirements to do the job. He also reminds the reader that BC jobs are not the exclusive domain of men. In talking about welding, he mentions the number of women entering the field. I can attest that one of three welders we employed at my last manufacturing company was a woman.

Unlike the U.S. and Canada, Europe does not have the mind-set that to have a fulfilling career you need to attend college. In fact, a 2004 study showed that BC workers in the U.K. were the happiest of all employees. No doubt working with your hands to complete a tangible project can be very satisfying.

Hopefully, we in North America can develop the same mind-set for the good of our industry and our economy – blue collar proud. IH