You’d think a sudden influx of more than 100,000 jobs in the United States would make everyone happy, right? Think again.
Between 2009 and 2012, the number of manufacturing jobs in the United States shot up from 98,000 to 230,000. With Chinese labor costs increasing by 15 to 20 percent a year, many American companies have elected to pack up their manufacturing operations abroad and reopen on home soil. But American manufacturing companies are finding it incredibly difficult to fill these openings. There are plenty of people eager for these jobs, but there are few actually qualified to do them.
This shortage of skills doesn’t just affect manufacturing; every industry that runs on skilled labor is scrambling to find qualified workers. How did American labor get itself into this mess? And, more importantly, what do we do to resolve it?
Outsourcing, Education, and the Unmet Needs of the Market
Over the past decade, American companies have outsourced more than 2.4 million jobs. Given those numbers, it’s no wonder vocational training has lost its luster in the eyes of American students. In 2010, there were less than 1 million vocational certificates given out in the U.S., compared to the 21 million students who received academic undergraduate degrees the same year.
Even if corporations are beginning to choose American over foreign labor, there’s an entire generation of American graduates who lack the technical ability to step up to the plate. Vocational skill isn’t the only gap in the workforce, either. Every company, regardless of industry, is looking to hire people who can lead. Unfortunately, it seems that only a small portion of today’s workforce has leadership capabilities.
This means that technical ability and leadership skills are in high demand but short supply. The market has an unmet need for high-quality workers, and until that need is met, the market will suffer. However, there’s an entire labor pool of technically capable leaders out there, and they’re hungry for jobs.
Veterans Have What It Takes
Members of the military can be tremendous assets for any company, especially when the job calls for vocational ability. Veterans have honed their skills under pressure. They know how to work in teams, they know how to lead, and they learn quickly. They have what it takes to meet the needs of the labor market.
At one point, unemployment soared among the veteran population. And although veteran unemployment has been declining since 2010, the unemployment rate for veterans is still slightly higher than for non-veterans. Those hit hardest are the veterans serving in the years following 9-11, and many of the jobs veterans do secure are not necessarily well-paying. This is mainly due to skill translation. HR departments simply lack the military background to know whether a Navy hull technician would make a good project manager or welder on the shop floor.
That’s why there are organizations, such as the Wounded Warrior Project, that help veterans frame their experience and skill sets in terms that people in the business world can understand. They also provide support and training for veterans who are entering the civilian job market. With so many people working to bridge the gap between military and corporate culture, there has never been a better time to hire a veteran.
What It Means for HR
When HR departments are proactive about hiring veterans, it’s a win-win situation. Here are a few tips:
When your industry’s job market looks dismal, consider every employment pool available to hire. Veterans come into an organization with built-in leadership capabilities, technical skills, and the ability to learn on the job. Hiring veterans can help invigorate your organization and bring a diverse set of skills and experiences that can have an extremely positive impact.