What Can We Do About America’s Skilled Labor Shortage?
As the new decade begins, America is facing a difficult situation when it comes to employment and jobs. While more people than ever are graduating from higher education, they’re facing difficulty when seeking employment. Meanwhile, the nation faces an increasing lack of skilled labor, with trade professions having difficulty in staffing. With more people seeking employment after college, there’s increasingly a lack of people taking jobs in skilled trades, creating an employment gap based on education and training.
The Call Of Higher Education
With college education being more expensive than ever, why are more students attending when there are plenty of available jobs that don’t require a college degree? As a college education becomes more common, there’s increasing pressure from previous generations to pursue higher education. Often, attending college is now seen as the inevitable next step after high school. Public school systems tend to perpetuate this assumption. Half of the public school workforce consists of teachers. The other 50% are guidance counselors, nurses, speech therapists, etc. Regardless of staff status, many public school workers and teachers push their students to seek a college education, even when doing so is financially unwise.
Stigma Against Skilled Labor
In addition to the pressure to attend higher education, many Americans pursue college due to the seemingly prevalent stigma against careers in skilled labor. Trade professions, such as carpentry, plumbing, and repairs, often are seen as being “below” office work. This pushes many recent college graduates into part-time temporary or contract positions in an office environment. More than three million temporary and contract employees work for America’s staffing companies during an average week.
However, these skilled trade professions can actually pay more than the standard office job by a wide margin. Many skilled labor careers offer a high income, better hours, and better long-term prospects than college graduates will be able to find in other fields. Many capable individuals are, unfortunately, missing out on excellent careers due to widespread stigma against skilled labor.
The skilled labor shortage isn’t only impacting individuals’ career prospects; it also comes with a significant disadvantage for the nation’s economy. Current estimates suggest that the skilled labor shortage could cost as much as $2.5 trillion, with up to 2.4 million positions unfilled between 2018 and 2028. Additionally, the stigma against trade skills and the pressure to pursue higher education may worsen America’s existing student debt problems. Many students are forced to take out expensive loans to afford college tuition, pushing them into severe lifelong debt. This debt impacts all aspects of individual and national economics, with ripple effects as far-reaching as the settlement of life insurance payments. Approximately 86 percent of life insurance policies lapse without any benefit ever paid. With student debts climbing and more unfilled positions in certain industries, it’s clear that the nation will need to find solutions.
Fixing The Problems
Encouraging more people to pursue careers in skilled labor won’t happen overnight. Major cultural and structural shifts will need to occur for changes to take place long-term. During schooling, more students need to be made aware that there are acceptable career choices within skilled labor that pay well and don’t require a college degree. Not all of these careers require so-called “hard labor” either; according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are an estimated 7,880 tailors, dressmakers, and custom sewers across the nation. Informing current students about their options ensures that a larger percentage of them will move into these positions in the future.
But what can be done for positions that are currently vacant? Is waiting for students to graduate from high school first necessary? There are several more immediate intervention options available, and almost all of them rely on educating and retraining unemployed or underemployed individuals. It’s technically possible for people to educate themselves for entry into these careers. There are over 119,000 libraries in the United States. Most have resources or learning materials available to help with retraining.
However, many of these careers require some degree of training through trade schools. Directing funds towards training and retraining could help, and in many cases, it already has. Several veteran programs allow veterans to gain an education that can help them enter into well-paying skilled trade jobs. Veterans of the Armed Services can apply for G.I. Bill benefits online, making it easier than ever to receive the necessary financial support for education.
As 2020 begins, the skilled labor shortage continues to pose problems for the nation’s employment and economy. However, with increased resources and promotion of skilled labor careers at earlier ages, it may be possible to combat the shortage and avoid continued employment gaps over time.