US Facing Blue-Collar Worker Crisis

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 textile factory co-workers

The US is facing labor shortages in several industries — due in part to the lack of new blue-collar workers. The baby-boomers of the 1940s–1960s are reaching retirement age, and the blue-collar workers of that generation will have fewer people filling their shoes.

Construction

Although almost anyone fit enough can get general labor jobs — skilled workers like electricians and plumbers are difficult to find. In some states, electricians and plumbers can demand outrageous rates because of their scarcity — sometimes charging more than lawyers and surgeons.

Skilled or specialized construction work is also getting higher wages, as fewer graduates are entering the workforce. This lack of skilled workers has been especially felt after Trump’s win in 2016. The President cut taxes and lowered regulations — prompting a surge of construction jobs.

Construction companies were left scrambling for personnel, resulting in higher wages and other additional benefits. Wages for construction jobs have passed the $30/hour mark, while more skilled laborers can demand much more.

Manufacturing and Production

Automation and companies outsourcing production to other countries have led potential workers away from the manufacturing industry. However, labor costs in China and other parts of the world are beginning to rise to levels that make outsourcing less attractive.

The current government’s policies on tax and regulations have also led to a manufacturing boom to meet increased sales — boosted by online transactions. Manufacturers are finding difficulty in completing their rosters — especially after expansion. Although young people are entering the workforce — it is not enough to fill the gaps left by retiring workers.

Trucking

Truck - Freight transportation

Trucking has one of the oldest demographics when it comes to workers. Most US truckers are older than 45, with the average age being 55. This is particularly troubling because the industry will face a massive shortage of drivers in the next 10–15 years.

The American Trucking Association is already calling for the age requirement, which allows drivers to cross state lines, to be lowered to 18. This would allow high school graduates to start their careers in trucking earlier, instead of waiting until they’re 21. Driver shortages have also resulted in increased wages — $40,000/year for a rookie driver, which can increase to $60,000 in a few years’ time.

What can be done?

Automation is touted as one possible solution for the lack of blue-collar workers — but this is seldom true in most cases. Construction and trucking have very limited applications for automation, and manufacturing jobs still rely heavily on actual labor.

Raising retirement ages can also hold off impending shortages — but only if workers are willing and still able to perform their jobs. Promoting trade schools and erasing the stigma of blue-collar work in younger generations is the most optimal solution — but it would take another cultural shift for that to happen.

As blue-collar workers get older, demands for new blood gets higher. Wages in construction, manufacturing, and trucking are becoming very competitive — oftentimes exceeding standard office salaries.

Blue-collar work is now becoming a more attractive option for fresh graduates hoping to start a high-paying career immediately — and without the need for burdensome student loans.