Is America’s Labor Pool Adequate, or Even Available?

This morning’s paper in Northeast Mississippi announced some great news. The Toyota plant is expanding and will add about 400 jobs. Great news, right?

Maybe. I have two clients that are currently limiting growth because they can’t hire and retain labor. I’m not talking about highly skilled labor, I’m talking about semi-skilled production workers. The unemployment rate statewide is 4.6%, but in Lee County it’s at 3.6%. Employee participation rate nationally is at 62.9%. Doing some quick math tells us that about 32% of working age adults aren’t looking for work. They may be self-employed or simply not interested.

The statistics above are concerning but that’s not all the bad news. I read an article earlier this week, by Walter E. Williams, a professor of economics at George Mason University entitled “Educational Fraud Continues.”

In it he talks about the fact that the government is boasting about an 80% high school graduation rate. But Williams cited statistics from the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress Report, released recently:

Only 37% of 12th graders tested proficient or better in reading
Only 25% tested proficient or better in math.

He went on to say that:

70% of high school graduates enrolled in college even though only 37% tested proficient in reading and 25% in math at the 12th grade level.

He also referenced a study by Richard Vedder, distinguished emeritus professor of economics at Ohio State University and director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, in 2012 there were:

  • 115,000 Janitors;
  • 16,000 parking lot attendants;
  • 83,000 bartenders;
  • and about 35,000 taxi drivers with a bachelor’s degree

The issue is obvious to employers, where are the employees going to come from to fill the jobs of the future. It appears that the huge number of graduates referenced above are not interested in taking a production job and working their way up in an organization. Manufacturing and labor jobs in general, don’t seem to attract these young people.

What can employers do to change this? Clearly, we have to try something different, because the labor pool is shrinking and maybe less qualified than 20 years ago. At the very least, college graduates, whether proficient or not, don’t appear to be interested in working in the jobs that are available.

I’m interested in any comments as to what you are seeing in other locations.

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