For new stories, dig inside the blue-collar job market

by August 10, 2012
truck driver

Photo by iStock

One of the persistent themes of the ongoing U.S. jobs market stagnation is the mismatch between what prospective workers have to offer, and what employers want.

And many of the berths supposedly going begging aren’t those that require advanced degrees or years of training.

This recent USA Today article, for example, notes that a shortage of truck drivers – which it says is driven by retirements, safety crackdowns, looming limits on hours behind the wheel and the rigors of a nomadic job that many find lonely.  Annual turnover was as high as 90 percent at some carriers in the first quarter of the year, the article said.

Here’s a Statesman-Journal.com piece from Oregon about a shortage of welders, machine-tool operators and other workers with metal fabrication skills.

And now CNN is out with a new report that says hundreds of manufacturing jobs in northeast Indiana are going unfilled, despite the area’s high unemployment rate, because workers can’t make it through the screening process.  Failing to fill out applications properly, not making the grade in hands-on skills testing or failing to pass drug screenings are some of the reasons given by hiring managers interviewed.

Critics, as illustrated by this TIME column “The skills gap myth,” say there really isn’t a shortage of people with the know-how needed to fill vacant jobs, but that employers want experienced workers and for an entry-level wage, at that.  I’ve heard this complaint a lot in regards to the trucker shortage, for example.

Localizing this issue is a great way to head into fall and the hoped-for post-summer uptick in hiring. Check out job listings — like the 658 calls for machinists on Monster.com, for example — and try to seek the same level of detail as the CNN article produced, about the number of applicants vs. qualified candidates, the reasons people are being disqualified, and what workers can do to make themselves more competitive for these jobs.

It’s also a good time for a tandem story about trade-school enrollment, which CNN also said is on the upswing.  (The sidebar to any vocational or trade school story should include caveats about for-profit schools, financing programs, placement rates and other personal finance warnings.)

Check with your state’s workforce commission and/or education department about any programs under way to attract newcomers to the skilled trades, or about any recent employer surveys — the Statesman-Journal story above included information from a poll designed to identify skills mismatches in that region’s jobs market.  I recently heard about a regional machinists’ trade group that was sponsoring welding camps and the likes for teenagers, in order to get them interested in the trade.  Check with unions, trade and professional groups in your area for similar outreach.

RWM.org is a site that offers a directory of trade and vocational schools, including an interactive map and other helpful links and a Twitter feed.  (I can’t quite discern RWM’s agenda but the site may prove to be a helpful shortcut to schools in your area.)

And, as always, the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics is always a good source of wage and employment data, along with occupational outlook forecasts.  Here’s the portal to machinist and related jobs.