Skills Don’t Pay the Bills

By  |  November 26, 2012, 4:31 PM

What is the biggest threat to jobs in American manufacturing: robots or a skills gap? Many manufacturing jobs are vanishing because of computer-driven machinery, as discussed at Techonomy 2012, and nearly as many jobs have been outsourced. Thus, the industry’s future seems to lie in a new generation of highly skilled manufacturing employees who can run the computer that runs the machine. This means they must have a basic understanding of metallurgy, physics, chemistry, pneumatics, electrical wiring, and computer code.

Some say there’s a skills gap, and employees with the right training simply do not exist. But that may not be the whole problem, reports Adam Davidson of the New York Times Magazine. If manufacturing firms have a hard time finding qualified workers, it’s because wages are far too low for high-skilled employees. “If there’s a skills shortage, there has to be rises in wages,” said labor economist Mark Price. “It’s basic economics.” We need to better align the incentives of workers and manufacturers, or this skills shortage is expected to worsen: the average age of a highly skilled factory worker in the US is 56, which means many are approaching retirement. Few young workers are likely to seek training for high-skill manufacturing jobs, especially if they can make more money flipping burgers at McDonald’s.

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