While there are those—especially in Washington or who want to get a job in Washington—who are fulminating about the unemployment numbers in the U.S., it is too bad that they were probably too busy to attend one of the sessions being held last week at the 2012 Center for Automotive Research (www.cargroup.org) Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City, Michigan.
The session was titled “Surviving the Skills Shortage: Hiring Strategies and Solutions.”
When you hear about those unemployment numbers, think about this:
The U.S. auto industry employs 22% fewer people today than it did five years ago. We can all remember the implosion that occurred in 2008-2009. The vast number of people who lost their jobs. People who worked the line. People who were CEOs. No one, it seemed, came out wholly unscathed.
That was a horrible time. The scars that were ripped across families and communities remain.
Yet here we are, a few years later, and the premier automotive management conference in the U.S. is holding a session that is about “Surviving the Skills Shortage.” This, too, is serious stuff. Yes, the survival may be a bit of hyperbole—it’s not like companies are going to be closing their doors because they lack skilled workers (one would assume that there are other alternatives that would be entertained before shutting off the lights). But it is a tremendous problem, nonetheless.
Listen to Kristin Dziczek, director of the Labor and Industry Group at the Center for Automotive Research and the chair of that session: “We face a paradox where employers are reporting skills shortages despite a 6.7% unemployment rate for the transportation sector, and high jobless rates in many occupational categories.”
Consider: the industry has nontrivial unemployment (although I recently heard an economist say that whereas “full employment” was once considered to be 4% unemployment, that number may now be 6%), it has open positions, and yet there aren’t the people available to fill those positions.
Sure, there are people. Just not people with the skills necessary to do the jobs that are required by the OEMs and suppliers.
I was told much the same thing in another context by Douglas Woods, president of The Association for Manufacturing Technology—AMT (www.amtonline.org). We were talking about the forthcoming IMTS show in Chicago and Woods pointed out that during recent travels across the country he had the opportunity to talk with a number of manufacturers about their employment situations. Woods says that in the not-too-distant past, when there was an uptick in the economy like the one that we are experiencing today, companies tended to hire whomever they could get. But this time it’s different. This time the hiring is being done more judiciously. This time the people who are being brought on board are those with the skills—or the ability to quickly gain the skills—necessary to accomplishing what the companies need to have done.
Availability is no longer the ticket to a paycheck. Capability is.
This is because these manufacturers want to make sure that the next time things go south, they’re not going to be in a position where it is necessary to take a chainsaw to their employment rolls.
There is no easy solution to the skills shortage—for the simple reason that many people are going to have to learn new things, and if you think back to when you were learning things (although I would like to think that all of us are trying to learn all of the time, I’m guessing that is probably not the case), it was hard. Damned hard.
In point of fact, even though things are most certainly improving, it is going to be difficult for each and every one of us. But getting through the difficulties isn’t optional. Our survival depends on it.