The things we rely on to function day-to-day exist because someone builds them, installs them and keeps them going. But a lack of workers in critical professions means businesses, individuals and governments are having difficulty completing construction and other infrastructure work. In the United States and around the globe, the shortage of skilled labor is impacting the ability to keep up with infrastructure demands. The UK needs to recruit 400,000 workers to meet construction demands and Africa is seeing a shortage of critical skills (PDF, 8.42 MB) needed for transportation and energy infrastructure.
According to data collected by the global staffing company Manpower Group, skilled trade vacancies have remained the hardest jobs to fill in the U.S. since 2010. Professions that require training beyond high school, but less than a four-year degree, like welders, electricians and mechanics, continue to have openings that go unfilled.
At a time when the United States is worried about manufacturing jobs disappearing or going overseas, why do we have a shortage of workers and why aren’t more people pursuing careers in these well-paying fields?
Most people agree that perception of trades and technical programs needs to change to attract more students. And maybe more people just need to try them on for size.
Perceptions of trade professions are beginning to change and so is the actual work. Technology is having a big impact on how today’s workers get the job done in every field. Whether it’s using drones and virtual reality in construction, or database sharing and infrared scanners for criminal justice, technology is changing the way we work. “I see the technology changing all the time,” says Shayla Schauer, automotive collision repair student, “especially in structural analysis. Things are getting more complex and easier at the same time.”
These jobs have always had strong ties to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) not only because of new technology, but because they are heavily based in science and math. Students and instructors say it makes all the difference when math and science are not just abstract concepts learned in the classroom but are applied in a hands-on setting.
Industry leaders, educators and non-profit organizations like SkillsUSA agree that the way to fill the skills gap is by forming partnerships between industry and education. As the way we work changes, many jobs require a different set of skills than in years past. Top drivers of the skills gap include lack of experience and lack of both hard and soft skills.
SkillsUSA works with business partners to determine which skills are most in demand, and they work with students and schools to develop both technical and leadership skills of the future workforce.
Business partners like 3M and Caterpillar know these partnerships are important as they look at the available talent needs for the next 20 years and beyond.
“It is critical for companies like 3M to help advance education and training of the next generation of workers,” says Mojdeh Poul, executive vice president of 3M Safety and Graphics. “The future success of our global economy depends on these skilled workers.”
And Chris Arvin, manager for organizational development at Caterpillar and board president for SkillsUSA, agrees. “We have to have a pipeline of people that are training in these types of skills,” he says. “Automotive technology, robotics, hair design, baking – it’s so important when you think about how you make a society run or how you make an industry run.