Harold L. Sirkin, BCG:
Fears of a U.S. Manufacturing-Skills Gap in the Near Term Are Overblown
August 28, 2013
U.S. skills shortage will be far less of a problem than many people
believe in the short term, and it is unlikely to prevent a resurgence in
U.S. manufacturing in the next few years, according to a new report by
The Boston Consulting Group (BCG).
“Is the U.S. really facing a manufacturing-skills crisis?” the report
asks. “We believe such fears are overblown—at least for the near term.
Our research finds little evidence of a meaningful and persistent skills
gap in most parts of the U.S., including in its most important
“The real problem,” it continues, “is that companies have become too
passive in recruiting and developing skilled workers at a time when the
U.S. education system has moved away from a focus on manufacturing
skills in order to put greater emphasis on other capabilities.”
The following key findings are based on an analysis of job vacancy and
wage data, as well as on a BCG survey of 100 companies with U.S.
In the short term:
• BCG estimates that the U.S. is currently short around 80,000 to
100,000 highly skilled manufacturing workers. But those numbers
represent less than 1 percent of the nation’s total manufacturing
workforce and less than 8 percent of its highly skilled workforce of
approximately 1.4 million.
• The skilled-worker shortages that exist in the U.S. are localized.
Only 5 of the nation’s 50 largest manufacturing centers—Baton Rouge,
Louisiana; Charlotte, North Carolina; Miami, Florida; San Antonio,
Texas; and Wichita, Kansas—appear to have significant or severe skills
gaps. Ninety percent of the biggest manufacturing areas do not show
evidence of significant manufacturing-skills shortages.
In the long term:
Companies are not doing enough to cultivate a new generation of skilled
manufacturing workers in the U.S. Manufacturers have scaled back their
in-house training over the years, and they underutilize important
sources of new talent such as high schools and community colleges.
• The retirement of aging workers, as well as heightened demand for
workers, could cause serious skilled-labor shortages in the U.S. By
2020, the nation could face a shortfall of around 875,000 machinists,
welders, industrial-machinery mechanics, and industrial engineers,
according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and BCG estimates.
• Companies, schools, governments, and nonprofits must do much more to
identify, recruit, train, and employ skilled manufacturing workers. A
wide array of collaborative programs already exists across the U.S. But
these programs are not nearly sufficient.
“Quite often, the skilled workers are available—just not at a price
employers are willing to pay,” explained Harold L. Sirkin, a BCG senior
partner and coauthor of the research. “Or companies do not bother to
recruit at community colleges and vocational schools. In other
instances, experienced skilled workers with good academic training are
available—sometimes in-house—but companies are unwilling to invest the
time and money to train these workers to use new technologies or
Michael Zinser, a BCG partner who leads the firm’s manufacturing
practice in the Americas, added: “Investment by the public and private
sectors in skills development needs to increase and accelerate.
Companies can meet many of their needs on their own through more
aggressive recruiting and training. These efforts must be supported by a
nationwide program of science, technology, and engineering training to
ensure that there will be sufficient skilled workers in key trades.”