In a new World of Work Insight Paper Titled: "Strategic Migration – a Short-Term Solution to the Skilled Trades Shortage," Manpower warns that as the global economy recovers, it is necessary to implement strategic migration policies in order to create a mobile workforce and plug the gap of skilled workers
Mark H. Ayers, President, Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO, disagrees. In his post on the Huffington Post Blog, Ayers claims that "is suspect from the start due to its source. Secondly, the brain trust at Manpower, Inc. is apparently unaware that there is 20% unemployment right now among the skilled trades in the United States (and in many areas of the nation, the rate is above 30% and sometimes 40%). Third, the term "strategic migration" is simply a more elegant way to say that American employers – not all American employers, mind you, but a significant number of them – are chomping at the bit to ease immigration restrictions for guest workers so that they can pay less for skilled craft labor."
Ayers is absolutely correct about (1) the source of the study, (2) 20% unemployment is real, and (3) many U.S. employers are cheap SOBs looking to hire workers willing to work for the least amount of money.
But his position ignores the harsh reality of today's re-structured economy and job market. Twenty percent unemployment in the skilled trades doesn't mean that 1/5 of those workers seeking employment are qualified. The recession no doubt was an excuse for many organizations to do what they could have done years earlier. To avoid political fall-out of layoffs, outsourcing, or automation, they kept doing what they always did. Business expected the consumer to pay for complacency and bad business practices. When the bubble burst, businesses found themselves with a lot of under-skilled, over-paid workers in jobs that time and automation replaced. Many unemployed workers who simply enjoyed a middle class lifestyle for several decades on entry-level skills and earned the title of "skilled worker" don't qualify for available jobs today.
Ayers mentions plumbers and pipefitters, but ignore the studies of the National Association of Manufacturers who for years have admitted to a shortage of skilled workers in their industry despite massive layoffs and outsourcing.
The Manpower report, despite its bias, does expose a serious structural change in our economy that is ignored when leaders like Ayers attempt to shift the argument from a lack of skilled workers to immigration. Immigration and the inability of many workers to find jobs are related but not cause-and-effect.