We have a couple of commentaries today that can best be categorized in the vein of ‘a whacky Friday’.

The first relates to a front page Wall Street Journal article today, Help Wanted on the Factory Floor.  (paid subscription or online sign-up required) The premise of this article is that U.S. manufacturing companies now find themselves in a different position: scrambling to hire workers.  The article goes on to describe that in the backdrop of an unemployment rate near 9 percent, three trends are hindering hiring.  The first is that now that output levels are on the rise, companies are competing to hire skilled workers.  Second, skilled older workers, nearly a quarter of the manufacturing workforce, are starting to retire.  Third, the U.S. education system isn’t turning out enough people with the math and science skills needed to operate today’s sophisticated capital equipment.

I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or scream when I read these arguments.  Are you kidding?

Supply Chain Matters offers some different views. The fact that U.S. manufacturers are finally ready to hire is something that should be celebrated.  Thank goodness they are hiring since that is a positive sign on all fronts. It is good for the U.S. as well as the global economy.  As for the need to compete for the same pool of skilled workers, we asked the following. What if those workers are skilled, but have not worked for a long time?  Are they automatically screened out? Why not hire the multitude of underemployed or longer-term unemployed workers who have been eager to learn? Needing a rewarding and good paying job is excellent motivator to learning.

Regarding trend two, we strongly suspect that older workers are retiring earlier because they have had to endure long hours of work because manufacturers were  not at all inclined  to hire since the first signs of the severe recession occurred in 2008.  Fat profit margins and CEO bonuses trumped the need for hiring factory workers.  Yes these people are skilled, but they were probably not shown a lot of love. We further suspect many skilled workers did not originally come to their jobs with all the key skills required, and that constant changes in technology have demanded continuous on the job learning.

Trend three, noted as a failure of the educational system can only be described as political agenda on the part of the WSJ.  U.S. factory workers have been eager and willing to work for a long time.  Some had no choice but to re-skill themselves into other occupations in order to pay the bills.  Some remain ready, put perhaps do not meet certain soft criteria related to workforce composition.  Community colleges and trade schools have been overwhelmed by workers seeking to re-skill and each has done an admirable job at training.  Please do not insult all of our collective intelligence that the educational system has failed to respond.

Some additional thoughts.  As noted further in the WSJ article, some manufacturers had the foresight to believe that good times would eventually return, and collaboratively worked with local educational institutions to insure proper training programs were identified and delivered.  Some manufacturers have had the insight to launch internal, on-the-job training programs to insure a supply of skilled workers.  Other manufacturers are undertaking many innovative programs to train current and future production workers.

The story of increased hiring in U. S. manufacturing is the most positive news in this sector since 2008.  Wall Street needs to wake-up and view the big-picture vs. the usual what’s in it for us.

We want to hear from our readers.  Is there really an acute shortage of skilled manufacturing workers in the U.S. or a lack of creative thinking on the part of employers?

Bob Ferrari