Here in Western New York, we have had a continual decline from prosperity for at least four decades—longer and more continuous than many other regions because of the flight of manufacturing businesses caused by state regulatory and tax policy and a high percentage of union participation.
From what I'm reading, there are more and more regions of the country now in this same condition because of foreign competition for jobs. And yet, whether talking about engineers or welders, we have difficulty hiring. Where once there was a thriving, diverse manufacturing community there are now only "holdouts." Engineers or skilled tradesmen have no stability.
In a healthy region, when one company or industry is busy, others may be slow, riding opposing market roller coasters. Workers are able to move from one company to another as the nature of the market changes over cycles generally lasting three to eight years. The pool of intellectual and productive labor moves around within a reasonably sized region.
Today, when engineers or tradesmen lose their jobs, they have to pick up and relocate to get another. That gets pretty discouraging, and will prompt many of them to steer their offspring to what appears to be a better path. We are now reaping the harvest of that mindset nationwide.
Our education system has tremendous bias toward academia. While students of my generation were exposed to all facets of potential careers, today's students are not even given the opportunity to discover where their natural bent lies. Instead, they burn through four to six years of the most valuable and efficient learning years, incurring hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt to graduate with degrees in who knows what, only to learn that they actually always wanted to work outdoors and love building things.
The availability of jobs for engineers is intimately tied to the availability of jobs for skilled tradesmen and general laborers. Jobs for all are needed for a healthy economy. It is counterproductive to greatly separate the intellect from the production.