Skilled factory worker shortage could multiply by 10 by 2020


The skills gap that has the U.S. manufacturing industry panicked isn’t a big deal for now, according to a new report from the Boston Consulting Group.

But by the end of the decade, the shortage could balloon to 875,000 highly skilled workers from a shortfall of 80,000 to 100,000 now, according to the study.

Today, the deficit of workers represents less than 1% of the 11.5 million total factory workers in the country, or less than 8% of the 1.4 million highly skilled employees. Employers are looking to fill positions for welders, machinists, industrial machinery mechanics and more.


Only five of the 50 largest manufacturing centers – Baton Rouge, La.; Charlotte, N.C.; Miami; San Antonio; and Wichita, Kan. – are experiencing fast-growing factory wages, which BCG takes as evidence that demand for workers is outpacing supply.

The numbers “aren’t as bad as many believe,” said Harold L. Sirkin, a BCG senior partner who co-authored the research.

“It’s much less of an issue in larger communities, where supply and demand evens out more efficiently thanks to the bigger pool of workers,” Sirkin said in a statement. “Investment in training and skills development needs to be stepped up, but there’s little reason to believe that the U.S. cannot remain on track for a manufacturing renaissance by 2020.”

Last month, the factory sector grew for the first time in three months, according to a report from the Institute for Supply Management. In July, the industry contracted for the first time in nearly three years.

BCG believes that the U.S. is on track to create up to 5 million manufacturing and supporting jobs by 2020 by recapturing production from China and offering an alternative to high labor and energy costs in Western Europe and Japan.

But at the same time, American factories are watching their workforce age and begin to retire. The average high-skilled manufacturing worker in the country is 56 years old.


As the industry ramps up output and exports, BCG said companies need to invest more energy into filling the gap.

Currently, just 16% of manufacturing firms recruit in high schools, while 57% partner with community colleges on training programs, according to BCG.


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