More Worker Shortages – The Chickens Come Home To Roost?

While billions of dollars of aid flow into tsunami ravaged

East Asia

, two things stand in the way of the victims receiving much needed food, supplies and medical aid.  First is the lack of access. Many of the locations were remote in the first place and with access roads washed away, the survivors are isolated from the rest of the world.

The second source of frustration is a problem that keeps coming up again and again – the lack of workers.  The supplies are coming in so quickly that there aren’t enough people available to process the aid.  We can’t get all the donations out of our countries and once in their homelands to their neighborhoods. Once again, this is another example of why The Perfect Labor Storm is here and its effects will be felt over and over.

The magnitude of recent events and increasing complexity of our lives always seem to keep us waiting for service. Why? The answer is simple – not enough trained and skilled workers. Whether it is standing in line at a convenience store for milk and lottery tickets or waiting with hunger and desperation for relief aid, we never seem to have enough people available to serve us.  Months after hurricane victims lost their homes in


, many are still waiting for insurance adjustors to arrive and payments to be processed. 

Even when enough workers might exist, it doesn’t mean they show up.  Just ask one of the US Air passengers who were separated from their luggage over the Christmas holiday.

The outlook for aviation is not much brighter.  If things don’t change quickly, the luggage problem will be solved because travelers will be grounded.

·         Almost three-quarters of our nation’s 15,000 air traffic controllers, most hired after President Reagan dismissed strikers in early 1908’s, will retire in next ten years.

·         By 2010, half the controllers are expected to leave, mostly due to retirement. 5,000 are expected to leave by 2006. As many as 11,000 could leave over the next decade.

·         The rate of controller attrition is expected to be 150 percent to 200 percent higher over the next 10 years than it was over the previous five years.

·         Many potential retirees currently hold key positions as supervisors, work in some of FAA’s busiest facilities, or both.

·         About 93 percent of current supervisors are eligible to retire by 2011.

Finding replacements for the brain drain is only part of the FAA problem.  Forty percent of the trainees “wash-out”.  As a result, the FAA needs to hire nearly 20,000 controllers, not 12,500, if its current hiring and retention strategies don’t improve.

To add more credibility that the Perfect Labor Storm is on its way, the U.S. Bureau of Labor projected a shortage of speech-language pathologists.  Currently we have about 94,000; by 2012 we will need 120,000.  Many areas are already feeling the effect. In


, nearly 60 percent of the positions were filled with contract workers, who make double and triple what most pathologists make, or unlicensed assistants.

As mentioned earlier, the shortages are not being caused by attrition alone.  Demand for services is growing.  Due to improvements in diagnosing speech impairments combined with higher rates of autism, Down’s syndrome and cerebral palsy, more people are eligible for speech language services.

And like every other profession and industry feeling the pinch, universities are having trouble recruiting and graduating enough students, who also need a master’s degree to be fully certified in most states.

As more and more managers catch on and target the limited pool of available workers, the intensity of The Perfect Labor Storm will grow stronger.


Ira S Wolfe