August 22, 2014
The only thing missing from the skilled worker shortage were rising wages for skilled workers that were apparently in demand. Could that be changing?
Whenever the subject of a skilled-worker shortage emerges within the pages of The FABRICATOR or in a blog on thefabricator.com, the editors inevitably receive angry comments from fabricators who say we are perpetuating a “myth.” They claim that plenty of experienced welders and machine operators are available in the current labor pool, but fabrication shops don’t want to pay wages that are commiserate with experience.
Can both be right? Maybe they can.
In our What Keeps You up at Night? survey from 2013, we asked readers of The FABRICATOR to select what they think are the most pressing matters facing metal fabricators. The resounding No. 1 choice was “availability of skilled workers” at 36 percent. The second choice was “the economy,” which garnered top votes from only 19 percent of respondents.
As Senior Editor Tim Heston has noted in the past, these shops may not be looking just for technical skills, but also leadership skills that enable the employee to see the big picture, not just the task at hand. Frankly, that’s a skill that arguably is harder to find than welding skills and might contribute to this ongoing argument that there is a skilled-worker shortage. These shops don’t want just skilled workers; they want the right skilled workers.
The skilled labor, on the other hand, may simply be ignoring the job openings. Perhaps they have found new careers, or they simply need a bigger financial enticement to leave their current situation. No matter what you may believe, wage growth in the U.S. hasn’t been great.
And even those who flunked Economics 101 understand that when demand outstrips supply, the supply becomes much more valued. In short, wages for skilled labor should be on the rise—if the shortage existed.
Maybe the industry is finally seeing some much-anticipated movement on this skilled worker issue. The most recent edition of the Business Conditions survey from the National Association for Business Economics suggests positive growth ahead; none surveyed forecast negative growth. In fact, most believe that growth over the next 12 months will exceed 3 percent.
If you do a little more reading, you’ll learn that the survey is showing an upward trend in wage hikes, with 35 percent indicating that they intend to raise wages in the third quarter. Economic reality may finally be catching up with the skilled-worker issue.