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Factory labor shortage may rise

By Tiffany Hsu, Los Angeles Times –

U.S. manufacturing industry executives have bemoaned a skills gap in the nation’s workforce, but a new report says the shortfall isn’t a big deal — yet.

By the end of the decade, the shortage of highly skilled workers could balloon to 875,000 from 80,000 to 100,000 workers now, according to a study from Boston Consulting Group.

The current deficiency of workers represents less than 1 percent of the 11.5 million total factory workers in the country, according to the consulting group. Only five of the 50 largest manufacturing centers — Baton Rouge, La.; Charlotte, N.C.; Miami; San Antonio; and Wichita, Kan. — are experiencing fast-growing factory wages, which Boston Consulting Group takes as evidence that demand for workers is outpacing supply.

The numbers “aren’t as bad as many believe,” said Harold L. Sirkin, a Boston Consulting Group senior partner who co-wrote the research.

“It’s much less of an issue in larger communities, where supply and demand evens out more efficiently thanks to the bigger pool of workers,” Sirkin said in a statement. “Investment in training and skills development needs to be stepped up, but there’s little reason to believe that the U.S. cannot remain on track for a manufacturing renaissance by 2020.”

Last month, the factory sector grew for the first time in three months, according to a report from the Institute for Supply Management.

Boston Consulting Group said that the U.S. is on track to create as many as 5 million manufacturing and supporting jobs by 2020 by recapturing production from China and offering an alternative to high labor and energy costs in Western Europe and Japan.

But at the same time, U.S. factories are watching their workforce age and begin to retire. The average high-skilled manufacturing worker in the country is 56 years old.

As the industry ramps up output and exports, Boston Consulting Group said companies need to invest more energy into filling the gap.

Currently, just 16 percent of manufacturers recruit in high schools, while 57 percent partner with community colleges on training programs, according to the firm.

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