Skilled-worker shortage?

July 12, 2013
By: Dan Davis

After multiple e-mails from readers over the past couple of months claiming that our constant referencing to the skilled-worker shortage is a disservice, I figured it’s best to come clean. They are right. It’s not a skilled-worker shortage; it’s a skilled-worker-that-will-work-for-lower-than-expected-pay shortage.

Well, that hardly rolls off the tongue.

Readers may react like The FABRICATOR is trying to keep this whole trend a secret, but that’s hardly the case. This trend of depressed wages for workers in the U.S. is no secret. Wage growth has yet to achieve 2008 levels, and if you want to get really depressed, consider that on an inflation-adjusted basis, wages peaked in 1973.

What about welding specifically? The FABRICATOR asked its readers this question in a May survey: “How much does your company pay entry-level welders per hour?” The responses from the 181 readers were enlightening:

  • Less than $10—4%

  • $10-$12.99—25%

  • $13-$14.99—31%

  • $15-$16.99—15%

  • $17+--24%

That doesn’t look horrible considering it’s starting pay. Like any other job, you have to start at the bottom.

But what about the experienced welders who are looking for jobs? Well, employers just aren’t that into them. Ask any person over 40 years old who has been looking for a job like the one he had before the Great Recession. More than likely, it’s been a hard search. That’s why people are talking about the “real” unemployment numbers, which take into account people that have settled for part-time employment rather than continue the search for full-time jobs that don’t seem to exist.

These prospective employees expect more pay and likely are viewed as being more set in their ways, not open to new approaches to their jobs. The employers are more open to training inexperienced workers than wrestling with the perceived baggage that might come with experienced job candidates.

Why do we still call it a skilled-worker shortage? Our readers indicate that’s their concern. In the publication’s June 2013 “What Keeps You up at Night?” survey, 36 percent of respondents said that the availability of skilled workers was their No. 1 concern, surpassing both the economy and the availability of credit. The debate on whether a real shortage of skilled workers exists is a valid one, but the fact is that the people doing the hiring say that one does exist.

If you also take into account that baby boomers are beginning to approach retirement age, you realize that the demographics suggest that a lot of new manufacturing workers will be needed in the future. Baby boomers may be working longer than in the past to supplement their retirement funds, but they won’t be working forever.

For those that are frustrated with The FABRICATOR’s references to a skilled-worker shortage in the face of thousands of welders and manufacturing workers looking for work, I understand. But this is a large country filled with employers that have learned to do more with less and are very keen on adding the right employee to the mix, not just any employee. It’s a new economy, and the concept of full employment in the U.S. may be a decade or so away. It’s a frustrating time, but you push forward and do the best you can.


Dan Davis

Dan Davis

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8281