Welding is just one example of America’s shortage of skilled workers.
Bloomberg has reported that U.S. companies are grappling with this looming scarcity. Almost 3.5 million manufacturing positions will need to be filled over the next decade as baby boomers retire, and 2 million of those jobs could remain vacant because of manufacturing’s fading appeal to millennials.
“Boeing is well aware of the risks: Shortages of skilled workers from a smaller, mid-1990s exodus contributed to a factory meltdown that halted production of its cash cow, the 737. So earlier this year, the manufacturer carefully structured a voluntary layoff aimed at retirement-age workers, staggering the departures of 1,057 machinists to avoid massive disruptions,” Bloomberg added.
Nationally, an estimated 3 million jobs are available in the skilled trades — electricians, plumbers, manufacturing workers, pipefitters, mechanics, appliance repair, computer techs and welders. Traditionally known as blue collar jobs, they routinely pay $40,000 to $60,000 a year. According to Salary.com in 2014, the average heavy equipment operator in Seattle earns more than $93,000 a year in wages and benefits.
Still, these jobs go begging — and the situation will only worsen as skilled craft workers retire.
“The average age of a skilled craftsman such as a carpenter is 49; welder, 55; plumber, 56; and stonemason, 69,” Phil Crone, executive officer of the Dallas Builders Association, reported in 2014.
My father was a World War II vet who used the GI bill to become a journeyman electrician. He rose through the ranks to become a master electrician and made a good living for his family. His skills and experience landed him coveted jobs as the electrical superintendent of multimillion-dollar construction projects housing complicated high-voltage machinery.
Just as any craftsman today, he had to master math, science and engineering — the skills we now commonly associate with STEM education. He also had to learn to read, interpret and apply instructions from manuals and blueprints.
Acquiring a craft is hard work requiring long hours and persistence.
The good news is that this shortage leaves millennials with a great opportunity. There isn’t a shortage in work. There’s a shortage in workers, Industry News concluded. “Rather than spending four to six years in school and selling your soul just to be there, you can complete a trade-specific program in just two years with better potential job security to boot.”
The bottom line is, skilled workers are vital to bringing manufacturing back to America.
Don Brunell, retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, is a business analyst, writer, and columnist. He lives in Vancouver and can be contacted at TheBrunells@msn.com.