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It's the Height of Audacity to Claim a Skilled Worker "Shortage" When 20% of American Skilled Craft Workers Are Unemployed

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skilled workers unempledIn a new World of Work Insight Paper Titled: "Strategic Migration – a Short-Term Solution to the Skilled Trades Shortage," Manpower warns that as the global economy recovers, it is necessary to implement strategic migration policies in order to create a mobile workforce and plug the gap of skilled workers


Mark H. Ayers, President, Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO, disagrees.  In his post on the Huffington Post Blog, Ayers claims that

"is suspect from the start due to its source. Secondly, the brain trust at Manpower, Inc. is apparently unaware that there is 20% unemployment right now among the skilled trades in the United States (and in many areas of the nation, the rate is above 30% and sometimes 40%). Third, the term "strategic migration" is simply a more elegant way to say that American employers - not all American employers, mind you, but a significant number of them - are chomping at the bit to ease immigration restrictions for guest workers so that they can pay less for skilled craft labor."

Ayers is absolutely correct about (1) the source of the study, (2) 20% unemployment is real, and (3) many U.S. employers are cheap SOBs looking to hire workers willing to work for the least amount of money.

But his position ignores the harsh reality of today's re-structured economy and job market. Twenty percent unemployment in the skilled trades doesn't mean that 1/5 of those workers seeking employment are qualified. The recession no doubt was an excuse for many organizations to do what they could have done years earlier. To avoid political fall-out of layoffs, outsourcing, or automation, they kept doing what they always did. Business expected the consumer to pay for complacency and bad business practices. When the bubble burst, businesses found themselves with a lot of under-skilled, over-paid workers in jobs that time and automation replaced. Many unemployed workers who simply enjoyed a middle class lifestyle for several decades on entry-level skills and earned the title of "skilled worker" don't qualify for available jobs today.

Ayers mentions plumbers and pipefitters, but ignore the studies of the National Association of Manufacturers who for years have admitted to a shortage of skilled workers in their industry despite massive layoffs and outsourcing.

The Manpower report, despite its bias, does expose a serious structural change in our economy that is ignored when leaders like Ayers attempt to shift the argument from a lack of skilled workers to immigration. Immigration and the inability of many workers to find jobs are related but not cause-and-effect.



Ira S Wolfe is president of Success Performance Solutions (SPS), a pre-employment and leadership testing firm he founded in 1996. His clients, primarily based in the United States and Canada, include small and mid-sized businesses in over a dozen industries. He is widely recognized as an expert in pre-employment personality tests, workforce trends, and social media.

A prolific author, columnist, business blogger and sought-after-expect on hiring and workplace trends, Ira S. Wolfe has been aptly described as both a  “Gen Y masquerading in a Baby Boomer body” and “renaissance man.”

Ira is the author of the new book Geeks, Geezers, and Googlization: How to Manage the Unprecedented Convergence of the Wired, the Tired, and Technology in the Workplace.  His other books include The Perfect Labor Storm 2.0, The Perfect Labor Storm Fact Book, Understanding Business Values and Motivators, and Coming Job Boom.  He is a columnist for Business2Business Magazine and blogger for, Vistage Buzz, and Toolbox for HR.

While speaking at conferences, workshops, and client meetings, he recognized that his audiences were puzzled, confused, and excited - all at the same time - by the communication revolution called social media. Having grown his business Success Performance Solutions on internet marketing, helping clients integrate social media into their marketing and recruiting strategies was a natural fit. His success led to forming a new business unit Link Me, Tweet Me, Friend Me to help small and medium sized businesses use social media in their recruiting and marketing strategies.

An engaging and entertaining speaker, Ira captures his audience’s attention with a common-sense approach, dry sense of humor, and compelling command of workforce and demographic trends.  He speaks regularly to Vistage/Canada TEC CEO groups, association conferences and leadership events.

To schedule Ira:  717-291-4640 or 717-333-8286    Email: /



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Growth in women's share of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) occupations declined to 27% in 2011from a high of 34% in 1990. While women make up nearly half of the workforce, they were 26% of the STEM workforce in 2011.

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