Report shows world shortage of specialized labor

Union carpenters work on the reviewing stand for Obama's Inaugural Parade outside the White House -- November 5, 2008


Bill Radke: When the housing industry buckles, home construction slows way down. That must mean there must be an oversupply of carpenters and electricians. Actually, no. We got a new report today from the employment agency Manpower that says skilled workers like carpenters, electricians and plumbers are in very short supply. It's actually a worldwide problem.

Nancy Marshall Genzer tells us what's behind the shortage.

Nancy Marshall Genzer: Teenagers have for years been migrating to white collar jobs. Experts say one reason is the skilled trades have an image problem. Plumbing just isn't sexy.

"CSI" theme song

TV shows like CSI, for example, have inspired new forensic science majors. But I can't think of any shows that glorify plumbers or electricians.

"This Old House" theme song

PBS's "This Old House" is about as close as you get.

Clip from "This Old House": Alright, with the compression nut loosened, I can pull the whole assembly right out.

Not exactly riveting stuff. Manpower CEO Jeff Joerres says parents also share the blame for the lack of interest in the skilled trades. He says their mindset is "you're going to college. No matter what."

Jeff Joerres: It almost seems better to spend $30,000 and end up waiting tables after four years of college than to spend half of that and be productive and have a career in the skilled trades.

Manpower surveyed 35,000 employers across the globe. It found that a lack of skilled tradesman was the number one hiring challenge for the U.S. and five other leading industrialized countries.

Clark University business professor Gary Chaison was actually looking for a plumber when I called him earlier today.

Gary Chaison: I have a washing machine that's leaking.

Chaison says construction firms and other businesses are also having a hard time finding plumbers. And electricians. And carpenters. And the skilled worker shortage will just get worse as the economy starts to recover and companies become more interested in hiring.

Chaison: They may look elsewhere in other countries where they can find skilled workers.

Part of the solution could be allowing more skilled workers into the U.S. But Chaison says, in the long term, schools have to start offering more and better vocational programs.

In Washington, I'm Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.
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If it's such a problem where is the work?
I am a skilled carpenter and many of my co-workers along with myself have been out of work for nearly 2 years. This is at no fault of our own we are out there every day looking for work. Maybe Manpower has a problem finding skilled tradesmen because they want to pay $8 and hour which is what an unskilled worker would be paid. Why should these skilled tradesmen work for that when they have gone to school. Manpower CEO should check the facts of his own company before he quotes on information that is false and made up by what? his own company. Also, bringing workers in from other countries will only make Manpower richer because they will pay them less and less, they will get richer from exploiting others. Sounds unethical. Manpower is creating this facade to continue to line their pockets on the backs of others. Shame on you Manpower CEO and staff. Shame, shame!

Market economies don't have shortages. They just have fluctuations in supply and demand that results in new wage/price levels. If there was a shortage of "skilled" labor, then we would see rising wages in those fields and thus extra enticement for other labor to retool for those industries increasing the supply of said labor.

Quite true. I prefer hiring and working with trade skilled Mexicans, as they have the same work ethic I was raised with. Most gringos and union guys are just plain "twisted up in the head"

I assume this article was a paid advertisement article. You know, with newspapers also going under an advertisement can be an "article" now. Pffft. How can data from an private employment agency serve as data? Why not look to non-profits and union trade headquarters for accurate accounts? We all no there is so little money to build, developers aren't getting financed. In the chance that I;m wrong and have been living in the twilight zone in some alternate reality for the last 3 years, I thought I'd look at Manpowers' website and see what's available. I mean since there's such a huge job shortage I envisioned I'd be a huge hero, taking news to my Union meeting that we've all been saved and there's work for all...HOORAY! Yea, not so much. No Bricklayer positions in the 3 states I selected, no Welder or Iron Worker positions available either. Pffft again. Not that I'd take it if it didn't pay union scale. And for your info David Geschwind, apprenticeships ARE awesome and provide great results. As a UNION (key word being union) apprentice your training is paid for by collective union funds BEFORE you're even a union member you don't pay a dime for training, if you go to college you leave in debt. Apprentices train for a short time (2 weeks to 16 weeks), then go to work on the job earning as they learn. You make 40%-50% of what Journeymen make the first day on the job, which is a very decent living wage -- not $8 as David says, more like $16-$19 to start -- and increases by 10% as you satisfy work hour requirements and related training.

Monthly housing starts peaked in January 2006 at over 2.2 million. For the last couple of years, residential construction has staggered along at about on quarter of that output. So: Four years ago we seem to have had enough labor to build four times the number of houses we're building now, and there's a labor shortage? Where did everybody go?

Another out-of-touch report in the same program! I guess Ms. Genzer has not seen "Extreme Home Makeover", HGTV, etc. I have noticed, though, that public education is turning away from shop classes and vocational programs. We all can't work on computers- somebody has to run the power to them!

Yeah, I'm also perplexed by this story. Where exactly is there a shortage? My father has been a carpenter for more than 40 years, and these past 4-5 years have been the worst he's ever experienced as far as finding work. Granted, he's self-employed, but he has some clout built up from years of work to go on, which had been enough in the past. He's lived in Florida, where there is no work at all for him, and in Texas, which is supposed to be doing better than other states. I just wonder what this report is really going on.

I can't speak for other industries, or even other plumbing companies, but the Service Plumbing and HVAC company that I work for in Northern Virginia is always looking for highly-skilled journeyman or Master plumbers, and there is plenty of work to go around. We graduated 5 apprentices this year alone, and still find ourselves looking outside for more techs with the people skills and the nuts and bolts training to work with our customer base. If you are reading this article and gritting your teeth over a lack of work, you might want to look us up on line and check out our careers section at www.myplumber.com. then check out our Fan Page on facebook under My Plumber Heating and Cooling. Our management team would truly appreciate an opportunity to speak with you.

I'm a little confused by the way Nancy Marshall Genzer leads into the story with CSI music and then states that there's little respect for Blue Collar work. Hello - police and fireman workers are blue collar. I've thought about this matter quite a bit over the years and perhaps the only way to resolve the question is to commission an academic study which will recommend the commissioning of other academic studies which in turn....

Holmes on Homes and other HGTV shows are all showing the awesomeness of people in the skilled trades.


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