The Skills Gap

There was a time when factory work was manual labor. You’d have a guys performing the same repetitive tasks all day long on an assembly line. They didn’t need a college degree to work in a factory. In fact, they didn’t always need a high school diploma either.

Factory jobs were low-skill work that didn’t require specialized education.

However, those repetitive manual labor tasks are becoming increasingly automated. Low-skill jobs are being replaced with motion control systems and industrial machinery. Factory work is no longer reserved for unskilled, untrained laborers. Factory jobs now require more skill, more training, and more education.

Earlier this year, the Obama administration announced $100 million in grants to encourage training and the employment of low-skilled workers. It’s part of a continued effort to further stimulate jobs for the working middle class, which has been crucial to the United States’ economic comeback. But middle skill jobs may not be enough to keep the U.S. competitive with the rest of the world.

Advancements in technology and the increasing use and sophistication of industrial machinery, software, and automated systems mean that factory work requires much more skill and training than ever before. A high school education isn’t enough to earn a job in factories anymore.

The problem is there aren’t enough skilled workers to fulfill the new factory jobs that have been created through advancing technologies. According to Fortune magazine, almost two-thirds of companies in the United States report having vacant positions due to a lack of skilled workers.

Part of the issue is a lack of emphasis on math and science courses in schools. The United States has lagged behind other nations in these areas, which is part of the reason for attempts to attract high-skilled immigrants to fill vacant positions.

But this problem isn’t specific to the U.S. There is a worldwide shortage of skilled laborers. As technology continues to advance, we can expect to see more of a need for high-skill work, and a decrease in low-skill work.