So What About That Skills Gap?

Mind_The_Gap_by_sasuz_stockA couple of years ago we wrote about the then-controversial idea of the Skills Gap. The Skills Gap refers to the idea that a lack of qualified technical and engineering workers in the U.S. interferes with attempts to restore manufacturing jobs to their former importance in the American economy.

Here’s what people who believe in the Skills Gap say:

  • Employers want to hire more Americans, but the good jobs available are typically jobs requiring skills in math, science, engineering, and technology. Few American students choose to study these subjects.
  • Nearly 40% of employers said, in a recent survey by Manpower, that they can’t find qualified workers to fill the jobs they have open. Similar figures can be found across the nation, or at least all over the internet.
  • Most U.S. high school students graduate with very rudimentary math skills, and shop classes are being eliminated too, so graduates have the capacity neither for the mental nor the physical demands of manufacturing jobs. Where in the past there might have two groups of students with different technical skills, there is now one large group with soft skills, ready for fast food jobs.
  • Baby Boomers are retiring, leaving a space the younger generation hasn’t stepped up to fill, possibly because manufacturing has until recently not been a growth field in the U.S. and possibly because of negative perceptions of factory work.

A new Connecticut survey listed a lot of skills that they have trouble finding in their local labor pool:

The skills that manufacturers most crave, in order of importance, were critical thinking and problem solving, engineering, robotics and automation, machine-tool programming, computer-assisted product design and technical writing and comprehension, according to the survey.

Here’s what people who don’t believe in it say:

  • U.S. manufacturers aren’t willing to pay enough to tempt American STEM workers, and would rather go overseas where they can get qualified people for far less money.
  • American companies have reduced or eliminated apprenticeship and training programs.
  • Online applications tend to favor people with soft skills, and they may be used to eliminate large groups of applicants who might actually have the needed skills or be able to learn them.
  • Employers are hiring for experience, not for skills. Especially for fairly new skills, there may be a small pool of workers who already have the experience, even if there is a large pool of people with the skills.

The AFL-CIO says,

This country has plenty of skilled workers. Just not enough companies that want to pay those workers what they deserve.

These two sides are no nearer to agreeing than when we first wrote about the issue. However, it’s clear that there are plenty of manufacturing companies looking for qualified workers and feeling as though they can’t find any. What can be done?

Work/school collaboration seems like one of the solutions. Rexroth Bosch has been working with Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, for example, to help students become more aware of their options.

On the job training, which has dwindled perhaps because of cost-cutting, should be revived. Bosch Rexroth is working on that, too. New training centers are being built at facilities in various countries, including the U.S. There’s even an online Learning Center.

And, hey, tell your kids to take math, or maybe shop. We did, and now we can help you with all your Indramat service needs.

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