The US worker crisis

The U.S. is currently in a crisis that is impacting our domestic businesses and will likely have a long-term negative impact on our country. This crisis is impacting almost every U.S. company. It is a crisis that is limiting economic growth and wealth generation in the U.S. and, if not solved, will eventually threaten our national security. In fact, when 20 CEO’s are gathered in a room and asked what their biggest challenge is, it is likely that 18 of the 20 will say it is finding good employees.

So, how did we get to the place where businesses cannot find the employees they need?

The U.S. economy is enjoying a nearly ten year run of economic growth which has generated a lot of new jobs while, at the same time, existing jobs are being vacated at the rate of 10,000 per day by retiring baby boomers. The combination of economic growth and retiring baby boomers has resulted in a very low unemployment rate with more jobs available at U.S. businesses than people qualified to fill them.

Every industry in the country is struggling to solve this problem and we are all chasing the same people. This problem will likely be alleviated in time as technology allows companies to automate further but that relief is still several years away. In the meantime, we have a serious problem that needs attention.

Digging deeper into this issue we see it can be broken down two ways:

  • First, our economy and businesses need people with employability skills. These are people who will show up every day and work hard with a great attitude while being net contributors. As an aside, Millennials get a bad rap related to employability skills but at our Correct Craft companies we have many outstanding Millennials who contribute as much as anyone.
  • Secondly, we need people who have technical skills. Of these two issues, developing employees with the right technical skills is getting the most attention.

Almost everyone trying to solve this problem is talking about starting new technical training programs but there is already a plethora of training schools. There are Federal, State, Regional, County, City and industry training programs available and we need to do a better job marketing these schools to fill them with students who want technical careers.

So, what can we do? Below are a few ideas that could help us mitigate the current worker crisis:

  • We need to work hard to change the perception of manufacturing as an undesirable career. Our Correct Craft companies recently celebrated Manufacturing Day by having students visit our plants across the U.S. to learn about manufacturing careers. Manufacturers need to continue demonstrating that it is possible in manufacturing to have a distinguished career in a technology rich environment with excellent benefits. Specifically, we need to work with high school students and their parents to ensure they know about the opportunities in manufacturing.
  • We need an equitable national immigration program that encourages good workers, who would be net contributors, to come to our country. I know this is an emotional topic, but the wealth generation and economic growth of our country has been historically fueled by immigration. If we cut off that fuel, we run the risk of our national economic engine sputtering out.

More specifically, the boating industry as a whole needs to further engage in developing a competent workforce and I am thrilled that the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) has now made that one of their strategic objectives. I believe we need to (if you are in another industry you can stop reading now!):

  • Promote our industry as a great place to work similar to how we promote boating as a great way to invest time with friends and family
  • Establish relationships with trade schools all over the country to ensure the students at those schools know about the boating industry and the opportunities we offer.
  • Use our existing boat shows to promote careers in boating. This is a unique tool we have in our industry that can help introduce boating careers to those who attend.
  • Consider the acquisition of a trade school to be owned by the NMMA.

Finding a competent workforce is a big problem for our country and industry that none of us can solve alone. However, together we can work on the items above to ensure we maintain and increase the growth of our national economy and industry.

Bill Yeargin is the president and CEO of Correct Craft.

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  1. Partnering with Vocational High School Programs might be a partial solution to the workforce shortage. These Vocational Training programs traditionally offer auto body, automotive repair, house building, and various other fields. The classes that they currently offer seem to be closely related to the boating industry. Developing in house vocational training using state resources for partial funding could also be an option. If over hiring of open positions is possible, a form of side by side training might create possibilities of promoting within. If companies in general are only focused on filling open positions instead of hiring in excess for future growth then that growth will not occur. My two cents from a life long career in the manufacturing industry.

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