Last Sunday, I was washing my hands in the restroom of my church, which proved to be a challenge since the sink was practically overflowing. An older woman who has been a member of the church for decades was experiencing similar difficulties, and she commented on the fact that these kinds of problems used to be addressed quickly because there was always someone in the church with hands-on skills – in this case, plumbing. But she pointed out that not as many people are entering those trades anymore, hence our overflowing sink.

It makes me wonder if our small congregation in NYC is representative of the trends affecting the nation as a whole. Judging by the results of the 2012 Talent Shortage Survey by Milwaukee-based ManpowerGroup, a workforce solutions company, that appears to be the case.

In its seventh annual survey, ManpowerGroup found that 49 percent of U.S. employers are experiencing difficulty filling mission-critical positions within their organizations. Compare that to 34 percent of employers worldwide who are short on skilled workers, and you’ll see that our country is a bit behind the curve. Out of the 41 countries and territories surveyed, Japan is in the worst position (81 percent of employers are having difficulty filling jobs), while Ireland is doing the best (just 2 percent of employers report challenges filling positions).

According to the survey, the top 10 jobs that are the most difficult to fill in the U.S. are:

  1. Skilled Trades
  2. Engineers
  3. IT Staff
  4. Sales Representatives
  5. Accounting & Finance Staff
  6. Drivers
  7. Mechanics
  8. Nurses
  9. Machinist/Machine Operators
  10. Teachers

The overflowing sink in the church bathroom is proof positive of the number one tough-to-fill position – skilled trades. According to the survey report, the worldwide focus on four-year university education over the last few decades has led to the unfortunate decline of vocational and technical programs. Face it – you just don’t hear as many kids these days saying, “I want to be a plumber/electrician/carpenter when I grow up.” But those skills are desperately needed in order to keep our homes, churches, schools, and businesses functioning.

Engineering is another key occupation where demand exceeds supply. Employers often identify mechanical, electrical, and civil engineering positions as the most difficult to fill. That’s why you’ve been seeing more and more reports of increased attention on developing science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills in early and higher education.

But all the reports don’t seem to be influencing people’s career decisions – or perhaps we’re just not seeing the effects yet. The top reasons that U.S. employers are having difficulty filling jobs are: lack of available talent/no applicants (55 percent); looking for more pay than is offered (54 percent); and lack of experience (44 percent).

While it’s important to follow your heart and pursue your passion, there’s also something to be said for going where the jobs are. When it comes to trades in particular, we seem to have developed a stigma that these jobs are less worthy than others – the typical blue-collar vs. white-collar comparison. But skilled trades take a lot of hard work and know-how. Not only is there no shame in these jobs, there’s actually a lot of pride in them. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in May 2011, carpenters earned an average of $40,010 per year; plumbers earned an average of $47,750; and electricians earned an average of $49,320. Not too shabby for workers without a traditional college education.

Pursue skilled trades and other in-demand jobs, and those of us with overflowing sinks and other mechanical difficulties will thank you for your efforts.

-Robyn Tellefsen

 

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