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Steve Crosswhite, a manual tool grinder at J&S Tool, shapes a piece on a grinding machine at the company's shop.
CHRISTIAN GOODEN/ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
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BY STEVE GIEGERICH
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
ST. PETERS, Mo.--In a three-year period that witnessed thousands of nearby residents suffering through unemployment, barely a week passed that J&S Tool didn't advertise its intent to hire a qualified, full-time employee.
"If I didn't read the papers, I wouldn't know there was a recession," said Shane Hammond, the president of the family-owned St. Peters manufacturer of grinding tools. "I'd laugh in your face if you told me millions of people are unemployed. I could call eight of our customers, and they'd tell you the same thing."
As the 7.8 percent national unemployment rate demonstrates, cautious hiring managers in most economic sectors continue to restrain the efforts of 12.1 million Americans to get back to work.
Not so in manufacturing, a province with literally thousands of jobs going unfilled.
In fact, 82 percent of the respondents to a recent Manufacturing Institute survey indicated they would likely add payroll were it not for the dearth of qualified candidates in the pipeline for skilled production jobs. Eighty percent of respondents expected the pipeline will remain dry into the foreseeable future.
The shortage of replacements for millions of jobs soon to be vacated by baby boomers retiring from skilled trades poses a greater threat to U.S. manufacturing than foreign production or the prolonged recovery from the recession, according to executives, educators and industry advocates.
"If I was a company, I'd be scared to death about the future, especially if I depended on labor and technology," said Stan Shoun, the president of Ranken Technical College in St. Louis.
Ranken, with 2,100 students, has seen enrollment jump by 30 percent in the past three years. It currently places 98 percent of its graduates in full-time jobs.
Shoun and other industry officials pin the shortage of capable skilled workers on the good intentions of the Greatest Generation who, in the interest of wanting a better life for their children, steered them away from careers that required punching a factory time clock.
Their children, the baby boomers, consequently earned undergraduate and graduate degrees, moved into white-collar jobs and raised their own children with the full expectation that they would attend college as well.
The continuum ignored a basic tenet.
"Not everyone is college material," said Hammond, who himself left higher education after six months to join the company founded by his father in 1986.