America Has a Critical Shortage of Skilled Workers

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Ever had trouble finding a good carpenter, or plumber, or other tradesman? Turns out you're not alone. At the moment, there are around a million jobs in the trades going unfilled.

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America’s shortage of skilled workers is impacting the ability of businesses in the construction and manufacturing industries to staff their businesses and complete jobs on time, prompting a search for a new type of talent pipeline for skilled workers to address the shortfall.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics job openings report for June 2023 found that the construction industry had roughly 374,000 job openings while manufacturing had 582,000. While the number of job openings in the two sectors shrank by about 279,000 combined openings compared to a year ago, the total remained near one million job openings for those two sectors out of the roughly 8.5 million open jobs economy-wide. 

There are a number of reasons for this, including the "Every kid must go to college" outlook, but attrition is bringing the issue to the fore:

"The problem that we’re facing today is that a lot of the workforce that’s been engaged in those roles is retiring and we’re not replenishing the workforce with new recruits into these jobs because the Millennial and Gen Z generations – they kind of grew up with a different idea in mind of what was a well-paying and what was a very meaningful job," Aidan Madigan-Curtis, a partner at venture capital firm Eclipse, told FOX Business.

"They’ve been taught that they need to learn how to code and they’ve been taught that the future is digital. And while obviously at Eclipse we deeply agree with the digitization of many of these industries, there’s still a huge role for the human element in human-machine interaction," she added. 

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If you translate "human-machine interaction" into English, it comes out as "people who use tools to build/fix things."

Most of the trades - carpentry, plumbing, mechanics, roofers, and so on - are predominantly male-dominated fields. And while young men are attending colleges at lower rates than young women, they apparently aren't going into the trades, either.

It wasn't always like this. I remember very well my paternal grandfather (born 1894), who worked much of his life as a Ford mechanic. He could fix anything. He was a good carpenter and made a hobby of fine woodworking and making wooden lamps in his later years. My maternal grandfather (born 1896) was a farmer with an interesting sideline; he had figured out a way to shore up old, sagging barns with steel wire and turnbuckles, and insurance companies all around eastern Iowa paid him to fix up those old buildings on foreclosed properties and so on. Dad (born 1923) was no slouch, either; when he started farming and needed a wagon, he and his brother took an old Model A Ford chassis, welded a wagon tongue to the front end, and built a wooden wagon box. That was in 1946. My brother was still using the wagon when he sold his country place in 2010, and the wagon was sold at his equipment auction; I'm sure it's still in use.

I have a bunch of nephews. None of them work in the trades. Most of them, I suspect, don't know how to change a tire.

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This doesn't bode well for the country. My paternal grandfather also told me, "A man who knows how to work with his hands will never have to worry about where his next meal is coming from." This was a man who raised a family during the Depression. Now, due to a national failure to teach trades in the schools, and to emphasize them in our society, and, yes, to look the other way at the influx of cheap labor from other countries, we have a couple of generations of young men who don't know how to work with their hands.

There are exceptions, of course. One of my sons-in-law is an EMT and volunteer firefighter and also works in his father's wood shop, building wood furniture and remodeling homes and businesses. Young men like him are every bit as positive a role model as someone like Elon Musk.

Somewhere along the way, America seems to have forgotten that. I suspect we will be reminded of it rather soon.

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