Which jobs are toughest to fill in today's market? Not technologists or nurses or data scientists. America’s most wanted workers are the staff with skilled trades – electricians, mechanists, and drillers, according to theManpower group’s Talent Shortage survey. And this category of workers has topped the rankings in five of the past six years.

Businesses all over the world are struggling to find the right talent to fill their Industrial and tech field jobs. In the U.S., demand for shop floor skills started dwindling with the manufacturing downturn. The recent economic revival has revived demand, but the supply continues to be short and manufacturing operations are now in a quandary over filling these positions. As many as 600,000 U.S. manufacturing jobs remained vacant across the country due to shortages of skilled workers, according to the Manufacturing Institute’s skills gap report. For instance, one in three welder jobs is vacant today, according to the American Welding Society. And economic officials, including Minneapolis Fed chief Narayana Kocherlakota and Kansas City Fed chief Esther George, haverecently warned how this could stoke inflation, put pressure on the economy, and affect the health of the military-industrial base.

And the skill gaps on the shop floor are widening with each passing year. Almost half of the engineers employed by power and utility companies will become eligible for retirement this year, according to analysts from Deloitte Consulting. As to further complicate the matter, electric companies are finding it increasingly difficult to attract new talent. The story is not much different in the oil and gas industry, which is being threatened by an aging workforce and a lack of skilled workers to replace those who retire. Younger workers, especially so-called Millenials or Generation Y (generally described as individuals born after the early 1980s), don’t seem interested in getting their hands dirty with what they perceive as outdated jobs. A survey by the Foundation of the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association (FMA) showed 52% of teens have little or no interest in a manufacturing career. When asked why, a whopping 61% said they seek a professional career, far surpassing other issues such as pay, career growth, and physical work. A majority of young people are looking for jobs with Internet and mobile companies.

As more and more baby boomers retire and younger people shy away from Industrial jobs, the problem is bound to grow dramatically. This disconnect could impact long-term business performance. Traditionally, older workers have transferred their knowledge and experience to younger workers through informal mentoring and on-the-job training. As a high proportion of manufacturing personnel near retirement, intelligence is at risk of exiting the shop floor forever. Most companies are scrambling to capture and transfer this vital “tribal knowledge” locked in their employees’ minds. As they work on attracting digital natives to jobs that are perceived to be “uncool” and “dirty,” many companies are rewriting traditional job descriptions, work rules, and eight-hour workdays to attract a multi-generational workforce.

Addressing the looming skilled-worker shortage could be crucial to preserve the green shoots emerging in the manufacturing industry.

About the author

GE Digital

Driving Digital Transformation

GE Digital connects streams of machine data to powerful analytics and people, providing industrial companies with valuable insights to manage assets and operations more efficiently. World-class talent and software capabilities help drive digital industrial transformation for big gains in productivity, availability and longevity. We do this by leveraging Predix, our cloud-based operating system, purpose built for the unique needs of industry.