Send Us Your Feedback on the Manufacturing Skills Gap

Sept. 13, 2012
Editor in Chief Joe Feeley Wants to Know What Readers' Reactions Are to American Companies Saying They Are Unable to Find Skilled Workers
About the Author
Joe Feeley is Editor in Chief of Control Design and Industrial Networking magazines. He joined Putman Media in 1997 to help start up Control Design. He has more than 20 years of engineering and management experience in the U.S. and Europe in industries that include high-purity semiconductor products and other specialty materials that required direct involvement with the associated machine designers.I'd like you to weigh in on a recent column by our managing editor, Aaron Hand, about reader feedback we received regarding our coverage of what's been a topical subject: the skills gap in America.

We had earlier reported on a few manufacturing executives who bemoaned their companies' inability to find skilled workers. Considering the pool of available manufacturing industry workers out there, this seems to fly in the face of traditional supply and demand forces that are supposed to take care of such imbalances.

The feedback was clear. There isn't a skills gap, they say. Companies are unwilling to pay a sufficient wage for the value of those skills. That means fewer people, qualified or otherwise, find it an attractive field of study or training.

The issue arose again in a recent article written by Adam Belz, a reporter for the Star Tribune in Minneapolis. Belz reports, "Manufacturers across the Upper Midwest will tell anyone who listens that they have jobs to offer — 2,580 welding positions in Minnesota alone — but not enough solid applicants." They point to a "skills gap" between the jobs available and the people out looking for work.

"If there is a shortage of something, you would expect the price of that something to increase over time," said Steve Hine, director of labor market information for the state of Minnesota, in the article. "It doesn't matter if that's skilled welders, or the market for beer."

Instead, reports Belz, "the average hourly wage for a welder in Minnesota grew just $1 between 2005 and 2011, to $17 per hour, according to Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development data. Take inflation into account, and that's a pay cut."

Belz reports that average inflation-adjusted pay for machinists rose only 9 cents per hour in the past seven years in Minnesota. Hourly wages for factory assemblers and fabricators rose just 10 cents, and pay for computer-controlled machine operators fell $1.61 per hour.

The article goes on to suggest that some of this disconnect has to do with the need for workers to evolve, improve their skillset and make themselves a more-attractive employee. But that doesn't explain why jobs are going begging, yet there's been no attempt to attract skills with higher wages.

"What some might call a skills gap in some cases turns out simply to be a pay gap," Belz writes. "Companies want to pay a certain wage, but can't find good candidates willing to work for that wage. Shops say they can't raise wages without raising prices for customers, which would lose them business. So manufacturers are stuck with the shortage of workers they've complained about for years, and workers are stuck with sluggish wages."

The feedback we received suggests this is going on at higher skill levels as well. That's why we'd like to hear from more of you, be you employer or employee.