Fears of a U.S. manufacturing skills gap in the near term are overblown, says report

September 5, 2013

The U.S. skills shortage will be less of a problem than many people believe in the short term, and it is unlikely to prevent a resurgence in U.S. manufacturing in the next few years, according to a report, "The U.S. Skills Gap: Could It Threaten a Manufacturing Renaissance?" from The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), Chicago.

According to the report, "Our research finds little evidence of a meaningful and persistent skills gap in most parts of the U.S., including in its most important manufacturing zones. The real problem is that companies have become too passive in recruiting and developing skilled workers at a time when the U.S. education system has moved away from a focus on manufacturing skills in order to put greater emphasis on other capabilities."

The report’s key findings are based on an analysis of job vacancy and wage data, as well as on a BCG survey of 100 companies with U.S. manufacturing operations.

The consulting group estimates that the U.S. is currently short around 80,000 to 100,000 highly skilled manufacturing workers. But those numbers represent less than 1 percent of the nation's total manufacturing workforce and less than 8 percent of its highly skilled workforce of approximately 1.4 million.

Only five of the nation's 50 largest manufacturing centers — Baton Rouge, La.; Charlotte, N.C.; Miami; San Antonio; and Wichita, Kan. &mdash appear to have significant or severe skills gaps. Ninety percent of the biggest manufacturing areas do not show evidence of significant manufacturing-skills shortages.

"Quite often, the skilled workers are available — just not at a price employers are willing to pay," explained Harold L. Sirkin, a BCG senior partner and co-author of the research. "Or companies do not bother to recruit at community colleges and vocational schools. In other instances, experienced, skilled workers with good academic training are available — sometimes in-house — but companies are unwilling to invest the time and money to train these workers to use new technologies or specific machines."

"Investment by the public and private sectors in skills development needs to increase and accelerate," added Michael Zinser, a BCG partner who leads the firm's manufacturing practice in the Americas. "Companies can meet many of their needs on their own through more aggressive recruiting and training. These efforts must be supported by a nationwide program of science, technology, and engineering training to ensure that there will be sufficient skilled workers in key trades."

A copy of the report is available at www.bcgperspectives.com.

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