Skilled Worker Shortage Threatens TN Economy

Nearly two-thirds of Tennessee employers predict it will be difficult to find the qualified workers they need over the next decade. Among 618 business leaders surveyed by the Center for Business and Economic Research in Knoxville:

  • 66.2 percent said it will be either “hard” or “much harder” to find skilled workers in the future.
  • More than three of every 10 business respondents said they thought the quality of Tennessee’s work force had declined in the past decade.

    The crisis reaches a climax soon because most employers said having more skilled workers increasingly is important for their business success.

    You’ve heard the same story over and over, “The skill requirements for jobs are ever-increasing at the same time that much of our labor force is about to retire. The number of workers coming into the labor market isn’t going to grow as fast in the future.” (Dr. Matt Murray, a University of Tennessee economist.)

    Like nearly every other state (and developed country as well), a 2008 Economic Report to the (Tennessee) Governor spells out that “If Tennessee cannot produce the skilled work force required by businesses that compete in the global marketplace, these jobs will go elsewhere, to the detriment of the state and its residents.”

    Deborah K. Woolley, president of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said some of the biggest problems for employers today involve so-called “soft skills,” including the work ethic and communication skills of workers.

    To get employees ready to work, the average Tennessee employer spends $4,152 per year on worker training, according to the employer survey.

    Bob Sentell, human resources manager for Alstom Power, said his company is having to replace many of its older welders and other skilled tradesmen. At the same time, Alstom is preparing to hire 350 new workers for a new turbine division.


    Ira S Wolfe


    1. Ira Wolfe March 25, 2008 at 9:16 pm -

      Thanks for your comments – I apologize for the omission. The sentence should have read ” the average Tennessee [employer]spends $4,152 per year on worker training…”
      You mention if this was the case it is “peanuts.”
      Exactly! With so few skilled workers and the seemingly endless flood of bad reports on our education process, businesses will need to spend invest much more than “peanuts” to train employees if they expect to get the skills they need to do business. And as you suggested it might take the $4,152 per employee – otherwise they may get what they pay for.
      Thanks again for bringing the oversight to my attention.

    2. Chuck "SKy" Masterson March 25, 2008 at 5:42 pm -

      “To get employees ready to work, the average Tennessee spends $4,152 per year on worker training, according to the employer survey.”
      Assuming this was a readable sentence, either the entire company is getting trained for peanuts, or each worker is getting full tuition at the state university. This would mean the entire staff had college degrees in 4 years and the company would be all ph.d’s in 8.
      I don’t see a problem, either way I read it.

    3. Ira Wolfe February 23, 2008 at 4:47 pm -

      You are correect. Like the “national housing crisis” there is no “national” statistic. Shortages and excesses of employee is indeed local. Oregon like many states may have an excess of people looking for jobs but the key is “skilled worker shortage.”
      Why are the PhDs looking? Are dissatisfied in their current jobs or are they just not employable? With an expected nationwide shortage of 2 million teachers, there are plenty of opportunities.
      I suspect they either aren’t willing to relocate or the skills they have (like many workers) do not fit the jobs of tomorrow.
      But regardless of the reason, many jobs that drive economic growth in this country go wanting.

    4. Crusher February 23, 2008 at 4:06 pm -

      Plenty of cheap labor here in Oregon, employees are a dime a dozen, including lot’s of Ph.D.’s. Companies should move to Oregon. There’s never been a labor shortage in Oregon’s history. Every job gets thousands of applicants.