Politicians on both sides of the aisle point fingers about the decline of the manufacturing industry, and job reports seem to reflect a dearth of employment opportunity in the sector.
But employers across the country tell a different story: they have manufacturing jobs, they say, but no qualified workers to fill the positions.
At Oregon Business, Amy Milshtein writes:
John Underwood is looking for three good men. Or women. Or anyone, really, as long as they are an electrician certified to work in Oregon. “I’ve been searching for over a year to fill these positions,” laments the human resources manager for Timber Products Company in Medford.
Underwood is not alone. The entire region is searching for skilled, blue-collar labor. He estimates that over the next 12 months, the Rogue Valley could absorb about 20 more electricians, along with 30 millwrights.
It’s not just an Oregon problem, she says. In October 2016, there were 322,000 job openings in manufacturing — similar to pre-recession levels. That’s not enough to replace the millions of jobs lost during the downturn, but it seems like it would be good news for workers. The problem is that the jobs available require specialized skills that many workers don’t have.
In October 2016, there were 322,000 job openings in manufacturing — similar to pre-recession levels.
Square Pegs, Advanced Skills Hole
It’s one thing to need a carpenter or skilled plumber, it’s another to need someone to run a complicated piece of factory machinery, one that requires certifications and training. As technology advances to meet global demand, so do the requirements of even the most basic of blue-collar manufacturing jobs.
This skills gap, between workers who want the job and the job requirements itself, isn’t a new concept, but it’s still one that hasn’t been solved. As traditional jobs in the PNW decline, like those in timber or fishing, others will take their place, but they come with completely different skills requirements. One town in rural Oregon is turning heads with its addition of data centers where logging used to take place.
Looking for New Workers in New Places
In April, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) held an event called the “State of the Workforce and the Future of Work,” where they laid out their case. They included looking to historically untapped resources in the skills sector, namely women and minorities.
The jobs are out there, but few potential employees know it.
In the long term, it won’t be a lack of jobs that will be the problem, but a mismatch between skills, Dr. Nicole Smith, chief economist at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, told the panel. Strong training and retention systems — be it paid apprenticeships or otherwise — can ensure that future employees remain both adaptable and capable, regardless of how the industries change.
Workers could be trained to fill these jobs, but that will require our educational system to shift, supporting the technical training necessary to fill these roles.
Tell Us What You Think
Do you work in the manufacturing industry? Tell us your thoughts in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.