Skills Shortage Leaves American Jobs Unfilled

Workforce development and having a properly trained workforce is as critical as ever — and remains a very evident challenge in the United States. At the Indiana Chamber, we’re proud to have Ready Indiana as an affiliate program working to aid Indiana businesses and workers in this constant battle. (If you have any questions about workforce training opportunities or what the state has available that could benefit your business, contact Ready Indiana Concierge Kris Deckard at [email protected].)

Scholars Thomas A. Hemphill and Mark J. Perry elaborate on this critical issue for The Wall Street Journal:

Following 12 straight years of declines, U.S. manufacturers added 109,000 workers to their payrolls in 2010 and another 237,000 in 2011. And in January of this year, the number of manufacturing jobs increased by 50,000.

Yet this vibrant sector is being held back—and not by imports. Instead there is a serious labor shortage. In an October 2011 survey of American manufacturers conducted by Deloitte Consulting LLP, respondents reported that 5% of their jobs remained unfilled simply because they could not find workers with the right skills.

That 5% vacancy rate meant that an astounding 600,000 jobs were left unfilled during a period when national unemployment was above 9%.

According to 74% of these manufacturers, work-force shortages or skills deficiencies in production positions such as machinists, craft workers and technicians were keeping them from expanding operations or improving productivity.

A majority of U.S. manufacturing jobs used to involve manual tasks such as basic assembly. But today’s industrial workplace has evolved toward a technology-driven factory floor that increasingly emphasizes highly skilled workers.

As Ed Hughes, president and CEO of Gateway Community and Technical College in Kentucky, accurately described the trend, "In the 1980s, U.S. manufacturing was "80% brawn and 20% brains, " but now it’s "10% brawn and 90% brains." This new trend, widely known as "advanced manufacturing," leans heavily on computation and software, sensing, networking and automation, and the use of emerging capabilities from the physical and biological sciences.

Faced with the shortage of skilled workers, manufacturers have begun joining with high schools, trade schools, community colleges and universities to train men and women with the right skill sets. In-house apprenticeship programs, a staple of the past, have largely disappeared, according to Dr. Peter Cappelli, director of the Wharton School’s Center for Human Resources. They’re too costly and time-consuming. Instead, he notes, companies are seeking out "just-in-time" employees who are already technically trained and ready to hit the ground running.

Twitter More Prominent in Customer Relations, Crisis Response

In its few years of existence, Twitter has grown in use from simply a way to answer "What are you doing?" to being a way to answer "Where can I find information important to my life and/or profession?" The latest East Coast snowstorm provided evidence of how businesses are taking to the medium. The New York Times reports:

Some travelers stranded by the great snowstorm of 2010 discovered a new lifeline for help. When all else fails, Twitter might be the best way to book a seat home.

While the airlines’ reservation lines required hours of waiting — if people could get through at all — savvy travelers were able to book new reservations, get flight information and track lost luggage. And they could complain, too.

Since Monday, nine Delta Air Lines agents with special Twitter training have been rotating shifts to help travelers wired enough to know how to “dm,” or send a direct message. Many other airlines are doing the same as a way to help travelers cut through the confusion of a storm that has grounded thousands of flights this week.

But not all travelers, of course. People who could not send a Twitter message if their life depended on it found themselves with that familiar feeling that often comes with air travel — being left out of yet another inside track to get the best information.

For those in the digital fast lane, however, the online help was a godsend.

Danielle Heming spent five hours Wednesday waiting for a flight from Fort Myers, Fla., back home to New York. Finally, it was canceled.

Facing overwhelmed JetBlue ticketing agents, busy signals on the phone and the possibility that she might not get a seat until New Year’s Day, she remembered that a friend had rebooked her flight almost immediately by sending a Twitter message to the airline.

She got out her iPhone, did a few searches and sent a few messages. Within an hour, she had a seat on another airline and a refund from JetBlue.

“It was a much, much better way to deal with this situation,” said Ms. Heming, 30, a student at New York University. “It was just the perfect example of this crazy, fast-forward techno world.”

Although airlines reported a doubling or tripling of Twitter traffic during the latest storm, the number of travelers who use Twitter is still small. Only about 8 percent of people who go online use Twitter, said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project, a nonprofit organization that studies the social impact of the Internet.

“This is still the domain of elite activist customers,” Mr. Rainie said.

Of course, an agent with a Twitter account cannot magically make a seat appear. More often than not, the agent’s role is to listen to people complain.

Small Business Owners Deal with Crisis

How are small business owners dealing with the latest financial crisis? How do they know if their bank is failing? What if they have a loan that is taken over by the FDIC or is acquired by a competitor? How could "Alf" speak English so well? You’re telling me the guy is from Melmac, eats cats and has the face of a bull terrier, yet he can pontificate like Oscar Wilde?

BusinessWeek responded to three of these pressing questions in a recent article focused on the impact the recent financial goings on have had on American small businesses. The article touches on the status and trends of banks, credit unions, loans and other information that could be useful to know:

While the financial crisis doesn’t necessarily affect the small business sector directly, economic pessimism and fears about winter fuel costs are likely to sap consumer confidence for some time. "Entrepreneurs should be mentally and financially prepared to hunker down in this economy for a couple of years," Thacker says. "The downturn that started a year ago could last another two Christmas seasons. I’m hoping its going to be less time than that, but people are worried."

Shameless plug: For those truly interested in helping their small business thrive, the Indiana Chamber offers Building a Business in Indiana. This publication, authored by attorneys at Bose McKinney & Evans LLP, walks new business owners through myriad trials and issues regarding a new business — things like protecting your company, taking advantage of the available tax credits and grants, legal obligations to employees, tax status and much more.