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The U.S. employment rate is at an all-time low. There are millions of open jobs yet there aren’t enough qualified applicants to fill these positions. There has been a shift in the nation over the last few decades and far fewer are seeking out specialized labor jobs.
Many professionals are referring to this as the “blue-collar drought”. Let’s take a look at this drought and how it impacts our economy and what we can do about it.
What Is A Blue-Collar Job?
Blue-collar refers to those who work in trade occupations. Historically, these employees wore blue uniforms, hence the term “blue-collar”. These are your manual labor jobs such as plumbers, mechanics, welders, etc.
Workforce Shortage for Blue-Collar Jobs
While the entire nation is seeing a labor shortage (unemployment is at a nearly 2 decade all-time low), these jobs are especially seeing a shortage of qualified workforce. This shortage could cost trillions of dollars to the nation’s economy.
For example, in 1970 about 25% of the workforce held jobs in manufacturing. Today, that number has dropped to only 13%. And, while most people assume that robotics will decrease manufacturing job demand, it’s actually done the opposite and created jobs.
What Is Causing the Shortage?
There are a few different reasons for this large decline in the blue-collar workforce. The first of these is the stigma that goes along with it. Most people don’t want to go into a field that requires heavy labor and they also think it doesn’t pay that well.
The Push to Go to College
One of the biggest contributing factors is the push for kids to go to college right after high school. Beginning in Kindergarten, kids are prepared for college with “College Bound” programs and parents push their kids to go to college as well. Every parent wants their child to be successful and as a nation, we’ve equated that success with going to college.
In the last three decades, college enrollment has increased by nearly 40%. The problem is that going to college doesn’t mean you’ll get a successful and well-paying job. In fact, over half of the “blue-collar” jobs out there pay more than jobs that require a 4-year degree.
The Decline in Skills Training
Labor skills used to be something that was taught from middle school and high school. When someone graduated from college, they already had a few years of experience before entering the full-time workforce. Today, blue-collar jobs aren’t luring new recruits because the pay remains rather flat and they all require years of experience.
Everyone wants years of experience but no one is willing to take on the task of providing that experience. Gone are the days of apprenticeships. Today, if one wants to become a welder, for example, they have to gain those skills at a college or trade school.
What Can Help this Blue-Collar Drought
Programs are starting to pop up in schools around the U.S. that are teaching kids these valuable skills. Schools are starting to make the shift from book learning to real-world, hands-on learning. Businesses are also starting to help out by offering paid apprenticeship programs. They do this by reaching out to local high schools to offer their paid programs. After only 2 years in the program, kids will enter the workforce with all the skills necessary to have a successful career.
Other companies and unions have also committed to funding apprenticeships and retraining of older workforce through continuing education. The white house also is helping out with what’s called the “Council for the American Worker”, which will help fund job-training initiatives.
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