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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

TEXT OF STORY

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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