Industrial Insight

a problem we all face… | February 22, 2012

U.S. manufacturing sees shortage of skilled factory workers

By Peter Whoriskey, Published: February 19

Through a combination of overseas competition and productivity gains, the United States has lost nearly 4 million manufacturing jobs in the past 10 years. But many manufacturers say the losses have not yielded a surplus of skilled factory workers.

Instead, as automation has transformed factories and altered the skills needed to operate and maintain factory equipment, the laid-off workers, who may be familiar with the old-fashioned presses and lathes, are often unqualified to run the new.

Compounding the problem is a demographic wave. At some factories, much of the workforce consists of baby boomers who are nearing retirement. Many of the younger workers who might have taken their place have avoided the manufacturing sector because of the volatility and stigma of factory work, as well as perceptions that U.S. manufacturing is a “dying industry.”

“Politicians make it sound like there’s a line out front of workers with a big sign saying ‘No more jobs,’ ” said Matt Tyler, chief executive of a precision metal company in New Troy, Mich. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

A recent report by Deloitte for the Manufacturing Institute, based on a survey of manufacturers, found that as many as 600,000 jobs are going unfilled. By comparison, the unemployed in the United States number 12.8 million, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“It’s a glamour issue,” said Dave Van Dam, 37. “The kids come in here and see a dirty, loud place. We get oil on ourselves. Then they go upstairs and they see the designers in their cubicles with two screens and headphones on listening to music.

“Plus, there’s the uniform we wear on the floor,” said Van Dam, dressed in work pants and a shirt with his name embroidered in blue stitching on the chest. “You go into a restaurant dressed like this, and you get treated different than if you have a suit on.”

The funny thing is, Van Dam said, that a skilled machine operator makes more than a designer. Pay for skilled operator-programmers runs from $18 to $28 per hour; the designers upstairs make $14 to $24.


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About author

I'm the executive vice president for a steel casting trade association, the Steel Founders' Society of America. I've got a crazy wife, five crazy children, three crazy people that married into the family, and two crazy fun little grandsons.







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