The Mid Level Skills Employee Supply Gap

 By Melissa Burns

Ask the average person which professions are most in demand and you’re likely to hear answers like “computer programmer” or “data analyst.” While these are certainly growing fields with a high demand for trained workers, they aren’t the professions with the biggest gaps between available jobs and capable applicants. The skilled trades – occupations such as electrician, boiler operator, HVAC technician are in increasingly high demand, and as the current workforce ages, the gap between the need for employees and the availability of a trained labor force continues to grow.

The skilled trades have a disproportionate number of employees over the age of 45 – but in addition to this general trend, there are also areas where especially severe shortages exist. In many northeastern states, as much as 60 percent of the skilled labor workforce is in the over-45 age bracket. Compounding the problem further is the fact that the physical demands of these jobs prevent many people employed in them from postponing retirement. In other words, whereas some workers’ personal preference or need for additional income might naturally lead them to compensate for the lack of an influx of younger labor, the physical toll of these jobs precludes that option.

The labor gap that exists in many trade industries belies the trend in American high schools over the last several generations to push virtually all students toward continuing education in a four year college degree program. This shift was made with the belief that a bachelor’s degree would better equip every student to pursue secure employment in a well-paying job. However, this push may have been misguided; while rapid advancements in technology have changed the shape of the labor market in many industries, the need for skilled carpenters or welders is likely to continue – or increase – well into the future. Additionally, many workers are better suited to these trades than to a four-year college education. In some cases, students may even come out ahead financially by pursuing a training program or two-year degree and then entering the job market as opposed to finishing four years of college, often by way of student loans that send graduates out into the workforce already saddled with significant debt.

It is estimated that over a half million skilled jobs in manufacturing go unfilled because there simply aren’t enough workers with the training to perform them. If this trend continues, it may have significant economic consequences. As manufacturing output increases and the available skilled labor market remains stagnant, opportunities for economic growth are being missed. Some employers are attempting to remedy this by taking steps to reverse the trend that has prevailed for the last few decades: they are turning their focus toward longevity, training new workers in the hopes that they will remain in the industry for the bulk of their careers, if not for life.

In addition to providing training and taking steps to reduce employee turnover, industry leaders are also looking for ways to beef up the image of skilled labor professions. These jobs provide opportunities for stable careers at several times the minimum wage. If the industry can successfully reshape perceptions of these jobs as viable, stable, middle class careers – and respectable jobs that perform an essential function in the country’s economy – it is hoped that more workers will be attracted to the opportunities these trades have to offer.

Melissa Burns graduated from the faculty of Journalism of Iowa State University in 2008. Nowadays she is an entrepreneur and independent journalist. Her sphere of interests includes startups, information technologies and how these ones may be implemented in the sphere of education. You may contact Melissa:


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