Response to WSJ’s “America’s Growing Labor Shortage”

Chuck Smith —  March 30, 2017 — Leave a comment

Today’s Wall Street Journal lead editorial focuses on “America’s Growing Labor Shortage.” The text is 14 paragraphs long, 13 of which detail the problems – construction and farm labor shortages – and one paragraph recommending somebody do something about it.

Every word of the editorial is true, yet stunningly insufficient. The recommendation? “… the U.S. will need to improve education and skills in manufacturing and IT.” The “U.S.” doesn’t “do” anything! Business leaders, state and federal leaders, academic leaders all need to “do” a number of specific actions to start to solve these shortages.

For instance, Hands-On CNC Training, a program in northern Illinois run by the TMA (Tooling and Manufacturing Association) is matching entry level candidates to CNC manufacturing jobs, providing an hourly wage, on-the-job and classroom training and the promise of a full time job on graduation. Funding comes from multiple sources (including the businesses that will benefit most from the investment).

Labor shortageI know that “union” is a dirty word for the WSJ. However, looking backward, it seems obvious today that union busting has had the negative consequence of reducing the pool of trained construction (and other) workers. Yes, unions may create additional expense for employers, but at least some of that expense paid for unions to train new members. This ensured the perpetuation of union and the availability of skilled workers to business. No institution has stepped forward to replace this training function, hence a shortage of workers. Companies that work collaboratively with unions to ensure a trained workforce suffer fewer labor shortages.

Another type of failure we see is a failure of imagination. Whether the open positions are in agriculture, manufacturing, construction, high-tech, or healthcare, employers do a poor job of helping potential employees picture what a career in their industry will be like. When employers spend time and money looking for “experienced” workers in fields that have shortages, they waste effort. Spend time and money educating future employees on the benefits of a career in their field. Spend effort identifying the work behaviors, motivations and skills required for the jobs and then find matching people regardless of experience. Then hire, train, and help new employees grow. Waiting for others to train your workers is a recipe for shortages.

And finally, in agreement with the WSJ editorial, bring in more, not fewer foreign workers for skilled and unskilled positions. Don’t restrict work visas.

At NewHire we believe “Every Job Deserves the Right Person,” and we work hard every day with employers all over the U.S. to help them hire better!

Chuck Smith

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Chuck is a sought-after speaker on issues of talent acquisition, recruiting and hiring best practices with more than 20 years of experience under his belt. When not running his business, you'll find him in Hyde Park playing ultimate frisbee with his friends & family. Connect with him on Google+.

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