Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Employers Stuck for Tradespeople, Technicians

Employers Stuck for Tradespeople, Technicians

By Rodney Joyce

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Tokyo - While the world pursues the knowledge economy, employers are increasingly desperate for plumbers, welders and other technical staff, U.S. employment services firm Manpower Inc said on Tuesday, in its annual survey of staff shortages.

The overall proportion of employers who can't hire the people they want fell to 31 percent from 41 percent last year, the survey found, largely reflecting the U.S. slowdown.

But the survey of nearly 43,000 employers in 32 countries found the rising lament almost everywhere was for trades people and similar skilled, but not necessarily highly educated, positions.

"We've grown up and others have grown up talking about the knowledge environment, and parents are encouraging their children to go to college and get ahead, if you will," Manpower Chief Executive Jeff Joerres told Reuters in a telephone interview.

"What is happening is that it is leaving a major void."

While Europe has fretted about the eastward expansion of the European Union and the potential for a flood of Polish plumbers and the like heading west, the survey found most Western European nations had the most acute shortages in such traditional crafts.

Joerres said employers across the world were desperate to fill such positions, which rely on detailed skills obtained over many years, including factory and maintenance technicians.

"They basically would say: 'As many technicians as you have, we will take or as many IT programmers, or engineers' so we clearly feel the intensity of these sort of skill shortages," he said, when asked about the impact on his business.

Joerres said education institutions had wound back trade training in response to declining demand, but it had gone too far with high schools no longer offering the technical training that enthused generations of young people to work with their hands.

Such jobs were now attractive career choices, not least because they could not be outsourced to the other side of the world, he said. "You can't be a plumber in New York City and live in Bangalore," Joerres said, saying the lengthy training required for such jobs would make it hard to fill the gaps.

"These are skills that pay well, may not be as glamorous in today's environment but offers someone not only good pay but a future of possibly being their own business owner," he said.

The proportion of employers reporting difficulty filling positions in the United States nearly halved to 22 percent in this year's survey, undertaken in late January, from 41 percent last year.

But Joerres played down the significance of economic weakness, pointing out that the proportion of Japanese employers reporting difficulty finding staff was 63 percent despite a sluggish domestic economy.

"You are going to go through cycles, like we are now in the U.S., France and a few other places that are in a little bit of a slowdown. Those are slight pauses," he said.

He said the demographic issue, with rapid ageing such as that in Japan - where the workforce is forecast to shrink 16 percent by 2030 - needed more focus.

The biggest bugbear for U.S. employers was a lack of engineers, followed by machinists and trades people.

In Asia and the Pacific, the most chronic issue was finding sales representatives, which Joerres said was due to increasingly complex requirements from multinationals expanding in Asia.

"The sales rep is no longer presenting just the vacuum cleaner at the door, if you will," he said.

"It requires a different kind of skill and a more sophisticated sale, and I think Asia has a little ways to catch up on that compared to Western Europe and the Americas."

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