There has been a lot of discussion in the media lately regarding the lack of employment for American workers. It is described as unemployment, under-employment, and good American jobs shipped overseas. Sometimes it’s about technology or imports replacing American workers. Sometimes it is about foreigners shipped in from other countries to take jobs that we cannot or will not fill.
It’s not just about the lack of jobs either. Part of the argument is about the quality of the jobs. Health benefits, minimum wage, and part time workers replacing full time workers so as to avoid paying the full burden of wages and benefits that really make up the foundation of the American dream.
Like most important topics in life there are no easy answers. Maybe minimum wage hikes make sense, maybe they do not. Clearly it will have an impact on how a business goes to market. To deny that is to turn away from reality. If you pay more for lower skilled labor it has the effect of raising the retail prices for products and services delivered. If you combine that with mandated medical insurance, paid leave, and other benefits it adds that much more to the delivered end product. Ultimately this cost must be passed on to the consumer. Make no mistake, we all pay for this; our system is built on businesses that must make a profit to survive. In the long term, they will never absorb this expense.
By stating these realities, we are not advocating a position on these topics. A basic living wage and basic benefits are important to individuals, families, and society as a whole. It is also fair to say, to have these fundamentals in place is an imperative to live the American dream, and to have a reasonable platform for peaceful coexistence in a fully developed country.
Maybe free trade and globalization can be pulled back a bit so that market forces will allow American workers to compete more successfully in the global market? Maybe we can automate and be so successful with higher efficiencies and advanced manufacturing techniques that we can have our cake and eat it too? However, it seems more likely that the information age, the global marketplace, and being fully competitive in all sectors of the economy are unlikely. Third world countries with much lower wages, working conditions, and benefits are a reality of the modern world. Walmart is likely here to stay, high tech developers and help desks from foreign countries are likely to be in our future. With the advent of inexpensive communication technologies worldwide, the genie is out of the bottle already.
While the rest of the world catches up with our quality of life, we do not have to slow advances in our way of life. We probably have to think a little differently though. The global economy is real and it is not 1950 anymore. Respect for our natural resources is important for our way of life and our children. We need to think and do things differently. Innovation and hard work are foundational to our success and we must maintain those principals even as we pivot to new strategies going forward. The world is different, the competitive pressures are different. While maintaining our core advantages, “We” must be different.
Finally, I come to the point of this article. There is a labor shortage in at least one industry that has the potential to improve at least a segment of the displaced workforce. As the discussion goes on about the lack of good jobs, the skilled workforce for tradespeople continues to dwindle. Plumbers, Electricians, and HVAC people are a hot commodity now. The pool of talented individuals is shrinking while the demand continues to be strong. Many companies train internally so the cost of entry to these trades is low and there are few barriers to success. Hard work, basic initiative, and the willingness to help people and fix and build things are all that is required. When we advertise for these positions, even at the entry level we get few qualified applicants. We continue to be amazed at the lack of interest in these careers which are high paying and with significant benefits. We must think differently, but the jobs are here. Why not take advantage of them?
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