The term recession is a familiar one as it relates to our economy in the past several years. But what about a skilled-worker recession? This type of recession is one where there are not enough skilled workers for the available jobs. We have periodically discussed related topics, but because it continues to be a problem – particularly in certain geographic areas – more can be said. In September 2008, we predicted that skilled-labor shortages had the potential to be a long-term problem. Since it’s over five years (2007) since we began discussing the issue (with no end in sight), our prediction appears to be valid.


Why does this continue to be a problem? The president and CEO of the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association is on record saying, “Education priorities rarely position manufacturing as a preferred career choice. The industry must constantly inform the editorial media – including the growing social-media universe – about the initiatives and available career paths of the industry.” He explains why manufacturers face hiring challenges:

•   Manufacturing has an image problem.

•   We are a nation of non-tinkerers – 57% of adults polled state they have average or below-average skills at fixing things.

•   The education system falls short.


This is a fairly succinct summary. We would add that the problem is compounded by the retirement of baby boomers (now 48-66 years old) and the college-only tracking of students, which agrees with the idea of the education system falling short. The image problem also holds people back from pursuing opportunities in manufacturing.

In a 2011 skills-gap report, The Manufacturing Institute indicated that 83% of manufacturers report a moderate or serious shortage of skilled production talent, and 74% say that this lack of talent is affecting their ability to expand operations. A copy of this report can be viewed/obtained by using the Mobile Tag at the end of this article.

Specific examples of this were identified in a recent Pittsburgh Tribune-Review article. A Pittsburgh-area metalworking company, Stellar Precision Components Inc., regularly turns away work because it can’t find enough machinists to hire. They could immediately hire 10 people if they were available. Compressor and steam-turbine maker Elliot Group has hired about 150 people during the past three years. Most of these workers were machinists, welders, millwrights and other skilled-trades workers. Elliot works with Westmoreland County (Pa.) Community College to train new hires, but they say that finding workers is “very difficult.” The company currently has 28 openings.

Things don’t promise to get better for these companies because the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 7% growth through 2020 in jobs for machinists and tool-and-die makers. Median pay in 2010 was almost $40,000. According to the Department of Labor and Industry, machinists in Pennsylvania made an average hourly wage of $19.10 in 2011.

Onshoring or reshoring could make this trend even worse. The Boston Consulting Group predicted that 2-3 million jobs could be reshored by the end of the decade. These are manufacturing jobs that were moved offshore in search of some benefit. Many companies have found that the offshore suppliers cannot keep up with demand, particularly when short lead times are a concern. Will the lack of skilled workers stateside stifle the reshoring of manufacturing jobs?

If it isn’t already a problem, your company will be faced with this issue sooner or later. What can you do now to prepare yourself? How can you help students to see that manufacturing offers a viable career path? Check out a pertinent cartoon using

Our industry needs to do everything it can to improve its image and help kids as young as junior high to see manufacturing as a viable career choice. Develop a relationship with one or more of the training programs in your area. Not only may you find your next employee there, you may also be able to encourage another young person to pursue a manufacturing career. It’s not a college-only future anymore. As college continues to become more and more expensive, payback is costlier than ever and graduates are not finding jobs. A manufacturing career begins paying dividends right away, both monetarily and in job satisfaction.

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 study in the past decade showed that blue-collar 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 successful future of our industry and our economy. IH


Reed Miller,

Associate Publisher/Editor