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WANTED: Skilled Workers

Manufacturing plants across the U.S. are finding it difficult to find qualified candidates who have the technical skills to fill approximately 600,000 positions. These positions range from machinists, to craft workers, to distributors, to technicians. It is estimated that over sixty percent of all manufacturers have a moderate to severe shortage of qualified workers. According to the Department of Labor, there are 3 million job openings in the U.S. today, with approximately 500,000 unfilled positions in the manufacturing sector alone.

Despite the high unemployment rate across the U.S. manufacturers struggle to fill positions. “Over the past five years, most manufacturers have redesigned and streamlined their production lines while implementing more process automation. In short, just as the industry is changing, the skills of the workers are changing as well,” says Emily DeRocco, president, The Manufacturing Institute. This change has increased the need for workers who have critical thinking skills and who have the skills and ability to problem solve.

The continually high number of job openings indicates that there is a shortage of workers without the necessary education, skills, and training needed to meet the demands of the manufacturing workforce. Within the next ten years the need for manufactures to fill job openings will continue to increase as people retire. However, manufacturers will not only need to replace those positions but will also need to fill positions based upon industry growth.

According to a report by Harry Smith, NBC journalist and news contributor on the program Rock Center with Brian Williams, many manufacturing jobs are currently leaving China and coming back to the United States. With Chinese wages rising and with shipping costs doubling China is not the bargain is used to be. Therefore, numerous manufacturing jobs are projected to move back to the U.S. Hal Sirkin, a senior partner at a Boston Consulting Group, projects that the shift from manufacturing in China back to the U.S. will have a major impact on employment. He projects that by the year 2015 there will be an additional two to three million jobs in the U. S. workforce.

Many people in the manufacturing industry say that the education system is not producing workers with the basic skills they need. However, early involvement in Career and Technical Education (CTE) will give those students interested in pursuing a career in manufacturing a competitive edge. Through participation in the building trades and the precision and production trades CTE Pathways, along with involvement in SkillsUSA, students will obtain the technical skills that will prepare them for a career in manufacturing.

Justin Lawson, a graduate of Viewmont High School says, “The CTE classes I have taken prepared me well for the road ahead. I know a lot more about my future and what I can do to improve it by [taking] those classes. It’s something I don’t regret at all, and I encourage all high school students to take some kind of CTE class, whether it is carpentry or clothing.

“The construction field is somewhere I feel like I belong. . .I can really flourish in carpentry. I love the satisfaction I get after I look at what I just built. It makes me feel accomplished.”

Kaydee Walters, a graduate from Tooele High School says, “[CTE] classes, my participation and leadership in SkillsUSA, and all the classes I will be taking in college will help me to enter and succeed in cabinetmaking and architectural woodwork.”

Students, talk to your school counselor to learn about participating in one of the building trades and/or precision and production trades CTE Pathways. The academic knowledge and technical skills you obtain through participation in one of these Pathways will prepare you for a successful career in the manufacturing industry.


WATCH the report on 60 Minutes that investigates the widening skills gap in manufacturing.

WATCH Harry Smith’s report about a furniture manufacturing factory in the small town of Lincolnton, North Carolina. Bruce Cochrane, the owner of Lincolnton Furniture, re-opened the factory after his family dismantled the business 20 years ago. His father, Theo “Red” Cochrane, always said, “It is not just about making fine furniture. It is about the good people that make the fine furniture!”

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