House lawmakers expressed their concern over the growing shortage of skilled workers to fill manufacturing jobs in the United States during a House Committee on Small Business hearing Thursday.
Chairman Steve Chabot said between baby boomers retiring and economic expansion, there is a lack of qualified people to fill vacancies in an industry that adds $2 trillion to the economy annually.
Citing statistics from the National Association of Manufacturers, the Ohio Republican said an estimated 3.5 million jobs will be needed, yet two million are expected to go unfilled in the sector over the course of the next 10 years.
“An estimated 2.7 million jobs are likely to be needed as a result of retirements of the existing workforce, while 700,000 jobs are likely to be created due to natural business expansion and growth,” he said in his opening statement. “In addition to retirements and economic expansion, other factors contribute to the shortage of skilled workforce, such as a lack of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, skills among workers, and a gradual decline of technical education programs in public high schools.”
Actor John Ratzenberger – known for his work on popular television series “Cheers” – who testified before the panel, said the stigma between manufacturing jobs needs to be changed, suggesting the term “blue collar worker be replaced with “essential worker” due to the necessity of people working in trades such as plumbing, trucking and carpentry.
Ratzenberger – the producer and star of Travel Channel series “Made in America,” which highlighted American-made goods and workers and led him to become an advocate for the cause – said schools’ eliminating classes like wood shop, metal shop and home economics has had a detrimental effect on businesses in need of competent employees.
“Not only did that result in a dropout rate back then of 30 percent instantly, but it left us with a skilled essential workforce whose average age today is 58 years old,” he noted. “There are close to a million jobs available right now in small businesses around the country that rely on people with mechanical common sense skills that we’ve stopped offering in our public schools three generations ago.”
Dr. Ray Perren, the president of Lanier Technical College, told the committee the industry has evolved due to technological advances and has a surplus of well-paying jobs, yet the perception a four-year degree is needed to be successful remains. He went on to suggest Congress work to change that image and consider extending tax credits to institutions that train workers in the necessary fields.
“We discouraged years ago the very thing that we are missing today – now one would naturally think the laws of supply and demand would fix all these problems that we’re taking about, right?” Republican Rep. Richard Hanna of New York said, adding there are hundreds of jobs in his district where they are seeing a skill gap.
Democratic Rep. Judy Chu of California noted manufacturing jobs that have been reshored leads to a trickle down effect in job creation in other local businesses.
“This is not your grandfather’s or even your father’s industry anymore,” Chabot said. It’s high-tech; it’s skills based; and it provides good jobs with good benefits that can provide for growing American families. We must do better job educating young people to improve the perception.”
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