Skilled workers needed to keep economy humming along

Most of the recent economic news in the country has been good. Gross domestic product for the second quarter of this year grew 4.2 percent, the highest rate since 2014. The unemployment rate for July was just under 4 percent.

This good economy has created a problem. Employers increasingly are having a difficult time finding skilled laborers such as truck drivers, construction workers and manufacturing workers. For the first time in a long time, there are many more job openings than there are eligible workers to fill them.

According to the American Trucking Associations, there’s a shortage of about 50,000 truck drivers in the U.S. This is affecting businesses and consumers. “Everywhere you look, there is a shortage of drivers” according to Amy Meade, owner of A.M. Transport in Tiffin.

Companies in all industries are complaining about how the driver shortage is affecting business. For example, Amazon increased its Prime membership from $99 to $119 a year. The online retailer stated one of the causes for the price jump was increased shipping costs.

The surge in online shopping is not the only reason for the driver shortage. Much of the problem is about demographics. Even though the numbers have increased in recent years, only about six percent of truck drivers are female.

A trucking career is not an easy sell. Truckers can work long hours and often are away from home for weeks at a time. Many of them sleep in their trucks.

“Safety is a real concern for drivers. Crowded truck stops with a lack of safe parking are a real and daily threat,” Meade added. Local and regional drivers also face obstacles, often working 12 to 14 hour days.

Construction jobs also are going unfilled. Many workers who left the field during the recession of 2007-2009 did not return when the industry rebounded. Among others, the skilled construction workers include plumbers, electricians and carpenters.

Demographics are playing a part here, also, with 50 being the average age of a construction trades worker. Industry organizations are trying to get younger workers to enter the industry. Apprenticeship programs are being created in schools to add more workers to the pipeline. It takes time to change larger labor force trends.

Manufacturers also are having a difficult time finding skilled workers. Increases in production orders have increased the number of skilled manufacturing employees needed. The retirement of baby boomers who work in factory jobs is one of the main culprits here.

The lack of interest by potential employees in factory jobs is similar to other industries. Today’s higher tech manufacturing jobs require workers who are grounded in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, areas in which the U.S. education system is lacking.

Ron Huffman, precision machining program Instructor at Sentinel Career and Technology Center in Tiffin, said it is an employees’ market for those with the skills required to work in today’s manufacturing industry.

“My students start at a competitive wage,” Huffman said. Students often are recruited by firms outside the Tiffin area as well as locally.

Manufacturing has a reputation problem, which is mostly due to opinions that are not aligned with reality. There is a misperception that manufacturers are not pleasant and progressive workplaces. Many argue that communities such as Tiffin need a manufacturing base to expand growth in a community.

Unfortunately, vocational education is disappearing from many high schools. As a university professor, I believe in the value of a college education, but the economy also needs good people to pursue these skilled jobs. These careers are in demand, offering the potential for high wages and, in many cases, provide chances for self-employment.

Perry Haan is professor of marketing and entrepreneurship at Tiffin University. He can be reached at (419) 618-2867.