As Labor Day approaches, we observe that many recent trends merit celebration. Unemployment is lower than its average during the last decade; the economy has been adding jobs during the last few years. Inflation is relatively low despite the rise in gasoline prices. Yet all is not well. The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) in its Labor Day 2005 report, "The Looming Workforce Crisis," provided a glimpse of the trouble besetting the American workforce if our country, particularly our young, is complacent:
"Just as [the] demand for better-educated and more highly-skilled workers begins to grow, troubling trends project a severe shortage of such workers. A 2005 report by the Manhattan Institute finds that 40 percent of ninth graders in 2002 will either drop out of school before completing high school or lack the needed skills for employment. At the same time, only 60 percent will get advanced training or seek a two- or four-year college degree after high school.
"In fact, results of the 2005 NAM Small Manufacturers Operating Survey conducted in July 2005 show that companies are already having trouble finding qualified workers. When asked to identify the most serious problem for their company, survey respondents ranked 'finding qualified employees' above high energy costs, the burden of taxes, federal regulations, and litigation. Only the cost of health insurance and import competition ranked as more pressing concerns.
"Together, these studies show that U.S. employers already struggling to find qualified workers will face an increasing shortage of such workers in coming years."
The quality and versatility of our country's workforce is increasingly important to ensuring our country's continued ability to innovate, produce and prosper. Merely showing up on time at the job on the assembly line is no longer sufficient. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao has said that more than nine of ten occupations created in the near future will require post-secondary education ranging from a four-year college degree to a two-year degree from a community college to specialized training in the skilled trades.