Battle of the Skills Gap: The Present vs. the Future

by Carlos Gonzalez
Mar 15, 2017

At a recent press conference, I attended a session on the skills gap and how to address the ever-growing problem. Currently the number of skilled workers needed in the United States is growing and by 2025 a shortage of 3.5 million workers is expected. In particular, we will have 2 million jobs unfilled because of the skills gap. But what do we mean when we say “skills gap”?

The current skills gap is one of skilled labor. These are your welders, assembly workers, electricians, machinists, etc. These are the people that are currently retiring and leaving the industry. What is most likely to blame is the lack of educational focus on these skilled labor jobs. We have focused less and less on shop classes and technical schools as we have increased focus on theoretical education. Hence, we have created more theoretical engineers without practical education. They know the rules of physics, but not how to manipulate the physical space. These are the jobs we need to fill right now, and for the foreseeable next eight years.

The current skills gap is one of skilled labor. These are your welders, assembly workers, electricians, machinists, etc. These are the people that are currently retiring and leaving the industry.


Although the skilled labor gap is a pressing problem, it is also a short-term problem. The Internet of Things, mobile devices, and robotics are set to take over the industrial world. Many of the day-to-day skilled labor jobs will be performed by smart machines. The impending long-term problem is the skills gap of the future. This is a shortage we are currently creating by developing advanced systems and technology but not future workers on how to operate them. The machines of the future will require not just the practical knowledge of design, but also the knowledge of machine programming. For example, we need mechanical engineers that understand electrical engineering and vice versa. The skilled labor of the future is not just the physical application, but how that will interface with the computer-connected world brought to you by the IoT.

So which one do we tackle? The discussion lately seems centered around how to develop our physical labored work force. I say, why not both? Why not improve the educational model that includes physical skill and computer education? Teach your welder how to program a robot. Teach your electrical engineer how to operate a CNC machine. Instruct your mechanical engineer how to write code. We need to develop the future education model not just to increase the skilled labor output, but future-proof it as well. 

Discuss this Blog Entry 4

on Mar 16, 2017

You can't relegate meat space (physical skilled labor) to control by cyber-space (internet of things). It's like saying all the minecraft builders that make such fantastic structures in minecraft are skilled enough to build actual buildings in the real world. The internet of things is only supplementary and improves upon skills that people already have. If the people using the system don't know how to weld, how can they make a machine that can do that for them? The more skilled the programmer is at welding, the better the machine can be programmed to weld. It seems like putting the cart before the horse to say, with the internet of things we won't need skilled laborers. The internet of things will make the skilled laborers we have more productive when properly implemented. Otherwise it will just convince people who are under qualified that they can do something just as well as the experts, when they actually can't. It happened to the US space program (haven't been to the moon since the 70's, and we don't currently know what we did to make it happen, since all the files were tossed when they brought in the space shuttle), it need not happen to US manufacturing.

on Mar 16, 2017

It seems to me that there is no actual shortage of skilled workers, just a shortage of the kind of workers employers want to hire. Employers want to hire exceptional workers with 5 years experience, so they don't have to train them and they don't have to pay them the wages that more experienced workers usually get. They also don't want to hire exceptional workers with exceptional experience because then they may feel threatened as far as a promotions and even their own job security.
Here in Ontario, the professional engineering society reports that of those with P. Eng. registration (one has to work for 3 years under a P. Eng. before one can be registered) only 28% of males and 15% of females engineers are now employed as engineers. And yet the employers are screaming about the shortage of engineers, especially female engineers. This screaming results in wasted education, wage depression and unemployment in the field especially for older engineers.
72% unemployment for males and 85% unemployment for female professional engineers are figures we never hear.
Add shortage of workers to your list of common lies:
"Anything the public sector can do, the private sector can do better and cheaper." How come all the government spending scandals are the ripoffs by the private sector?
"Republicans are fiscally responsible while Democrats drive up the deficit." The record shows that Republicans drive up the deficit and Democrats consistently reduce it. Remember Bill Clinton ran a surplus? Check the record, it's an eye opener.
The MBA mantra, "You don't have to know what you are managing, you only have to know how to manage." These MBA only CEOs are incapable of leading a company, as they don't know the business and are stuck with believing their favorite salesmen. The only thing they manage well is their own remuneration. They concentrate on the monthly bottom line without any clue of planning the future.
"Doing more and more with less and less?"
"Free Trade means more jobs." Free Trade is the big driver of wealth concentration. Automated production in the cheapest labor markets concentrates wealth. The UN reported last year that 60 odd people now own half the world's wealth. Looks like we're headed back to the feudal ages, the norm of human history.

on Mar 16, 2017

In your article you state

"The Internet of Things, mobile devices, and robotics are set to take over the industrial world. Many of the day-to-day skilled labor jobs will be performed by smart machines"

And how will you get such smart machines, a computer/embedded processor and software need something to operate and that requires a machine to be built by a skilled people. If you wish to take a better look at the whole picture then you will find that profit plays a large part in the demise of so called old fashioned engineering. The heady days of invention are now being measured against cost and the ideas just die a death, the great inventors of the 19th and 20th century actually went ahead and made there invention. The skilled workers were kept in employment to feed the frenzy of creativity - like the railways for example. Modern manufacturers are only interested in profit and not mankind, if they can run a production line with just five workers instead of twenty then the would rather pay minimum wages and get as much as humanly possible out of those five staff. If we watch China closely as it expands into oblivion, we will witness the same unemployment and staff reductions within its manufacturing sector as that which has happened in the US and UK. the beauty of China is that everyone is guaranteed a job. I read this week that Bill gates thinks we should tax Robots as they take away jobs from workers, its funny he didn't mention the taxation which should be placed on Microsoft for computers taking away jobs - it must be nice to sit in an ivory tower Bill. I'm an apprentice from the Thatcher days when funding was pulled for training and placement schemes came to an end, in order to get work i had to diversify to be better than other applicants. I consider myself to be the multi skilled craftsman of which you speak, it funny at 46 i can get a position which pays better than the minimum wage and i am often overlooked for positions for not having a degree. You will only fill the skills gap when you stop talking and start acting, what is the point of having all your skilled workers on welfare. To use an american phrase smell the coffee.

on Mar 16, 2017

I don't wish to be flippant about female engineers but it has been my experience that they tend to choose trades which are less physical and clean, where men are happy to weld at -30 degrees in the middle of winter up to their waist in effluent on a 18 hour day. its funny the number of ladies you have to push out of the way to get hold of the welding stick. That said their is room for everyone, if they are the right person for the job then they should get it irrespective of gender. I strongly object when female students in Engineering are offered free university tuition for their calling to the profession but men have to scrape an existence to get there. I have found education establishment tend to concentrate more on theoretical study than practical study, perhaps the skill shortage needs investigated at this level.

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