In Manufacturing, Skilled Workers are in High Demand

Frank Vargo, the National Association of Manufacturers’ vice president for international economic affairs, appeared on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal program this morning, a very good and serious segment. You can watch it on the web here. Most of the discussion involved trade, but at one point the interviewer, Greta Brawner, read these paragraphs from today’s Wall Street Journal, “Some Firms Struggle to Hire Despite High Unemployment“:

Manufacturers of high-precision products such as automobile and aircraft parts are in a particularly tough spot. Global competition keeps them from raising wages much. But they need workers with the combination of math skills, intuition and stamina required to operate the computer-controlled metalworking machines that now dominate the factory floor.

At Mechanical Devices, which supplies parts for earthmovers and other heavy equipment to manufacturers such as Caterpillar Inc., part owner Mark Sperry says he has been looking for $13-an-hour machinists since early this year. The lack of workers is “the key limitation to the growth of our business and to meeting our customers’ expectations,” says Mr. Sperry. He estimates the company could immediately boost sales by as much as 20% if it could find the 40 workers it needs.

Vargo reacted:

This is a very serious problem. When we talk to our companies, this is – especially for our smaller companies – this is the most serious problem they face. They just cannot find the skilled workers. The existing workforces are getting older and older, and as they retire, the companies are having a great deal of difficulty in finding the younger workers with the skills.

People don’t really have an accurate view of what manufacturing is like today. Manufacturing uses a lot of computer-controlled machine tools, and companies need skilled welders, they need skilled machinists, computer operators.

Despite the fact that there are about 5 million fewer jobs in manufacturing then there were in the year 2000, companies have a very difficult time finding skills. That’s why the National Association of Manufacturers have started working with local community colleges, working with states and others, to try to bring about the program so we can find the skills we need.

The Journal story is excellent.

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