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As the U.S. economy continues to recover, the manufacturing industry faces a new crisis: hundreds of thousands of unfilled positions (also referenced as the industries skills gap). The following infographic from Tulsa Welding School shows numbers from March 2013 exhibiting a year to date gain of 30,000 jobs, 71,000 annually. The sector is certainly growing, but there’s a shortage of labor to fill its appetite; a conundrum that marks a major change as Generation X passes the baton to Generation Y.

At the height of the housing crisis from 2007 to 2009, employment in the skilled trades as a whole plummeted a massive 13 percent. However, the industry rebounded 6.2 percent from 2010 to 2012, with demand projected to increase drastically in the next 15 years as over 77 million baby boomers retire from the workforce. To put this exodus in perspective, workers between the ages of 45 and 54 make up 23.6 percent of the U.S. labor force. In the skilled trades, that number is a whopping 32.4 percent – nearly one third. Will there be enough qualified workers to fill the void come 2030? Or will retiring baby boomers take the industry with them?

Of course, times have changed drastically since the 1950s, when unskilled workers performed over half of all manufacturing jobs. This figure dropped to 15 percent in 2005. While the percentage reflects an evolving economy, it doesn’t show the more important issue at hand. A talent shortage survey conducted in 2009 revealed the nation’s most sought-after workers; the top three slots went to electricians, carpenters/joiners, and welders – all skilled trades.

Are the skilled trades that hard to break into? Or is the cost of tuition to trade schools turning people away? Quite the contrary; in fact, many people can begin a rewarding career in the skilled trades in a fraction of the time it takes to earn a traditional degree from a four-year university. What’s more, vocational schools are on average much more affordable than 4-year Bachelor’s degrees.

For the aspiring welders, electricians, carpenters, and other valued trade workers, the opportunity is ripe to take advantage of tailored trade school programs. The demand is massive – an estimated 3 million trade jobs in the United States remain vacant, including over a half million in manufacturing. Job security is strong – society will always need electricians, mechanics, and other skilled tradesmen to keep things running smoothly. Companies are looking for skilled, educated employees who can get jobs done quicker, better, and with fewer mistakes.

 US Unemployment & Skilled Trades Demand Infographic

skilled trades infographic