Right now, American manufacturing is struggling to fill 200,000 vacant positions, I'm told. And there are 450,000 openings today in trades, transportation, utilities. The skill gap seems real, and it's getting wider. In Alabama a third of all skilled tradesmen are now over 55. They're retiring fast, and there's really nobody there to replace them. Alabama's not alone. A few months ago in Atlanta, I ran into Tom Vilsack, our Secretary of Agriculture. Tom told me about a governor he knows who is unable to move forward on the construction of a new power plant. The reason, I thought, was fascinating. It wasn't a lack of funds or lack of support, it was a lack of qualified welders.If tough history does come, we'll be learning those skills again because we must.
In general, people are surprised that high unemployment can exist at the same time as a skilled labor shortage. But they shouldn't be. We've pretty much guaranteed it. In high schools the vocational arts have all but vanished. We've elevated the importance of higher education to such a lofty perch that all other forms of knowledge are now labeled as "alternative." Millions of parents and kids see apprenticeships and really valuable on-the-job training opportunities as vocational consolation prizes best suited for those not cut out for a four-year degree. And still, we talk about creating "millions of shovel-ready jobs" for a society that doesn't really encourage people to pick up a shovel.In a hundred different ways I think we've slowly marginalized an entire category of critical professions, reshaping our expectations of a good job into something that no longer looks like work.
Now, go read the associated post at House of Eratosthenes.