Labor

The Surprising Global Shortage of Skilled Workers


The Surprising Global Shortage of Skilled Workers

Photograph by ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images

Want to find a job? That’s not a problem if you are trained as a technician and looking for work in China or Brazil. Ditto for sales representatives, who are in hot demand in Taiwan and Hong Kong. In Japan, engineers won’t sit idle. Meanwhile, in Ireland, IT workers are needed. In the Netherlands, it’s laborers. Even with unemployment running at an historic high of 8.1 percent in the U.S., don’t worry if you are a plumber, welder, or electrician. There’s plenty of demand for your skills.

Even as economists and politicians fret about the problem of global unemployment, those with the right résumés are in hot demand. That’s leading to talent shortages around the world, according to a survey released on May 29 by Milwaukee-based ManpowerGroup (MAN), one of the world’s largest temporary workers agencies.

All told, over one-third of the 38,000 companies Manpower surveyed earlier this year in 41 countries and territories reported that they were unable to find the workers they needed. That is 4 percentage points higher than it was in 2009, during the global financial crisis. The figure is still well below the 41 percent that reported shortages in 2007, before the crisis.

“Companies have gotten sophisticated about who they need and when they need them. In today’s world, it’s ‘stretch out your workplace a bit more and [only] then hire,’” says Jeff Joerres, ManpowerGroup’s chairman and chief executive officer. “Even if we had a robust recovery, I don’t think you are going to see that change. Companies have had too many lessons about how you can get whipsawed the other way.”

Not surprisingly, the largest number of employers reported shortages in Asia, where economies have been relatively resilient to date. Some 45 percent of employers surveyed there cited difficulties in finding the right people to hire. That’s the same number as in 2011, and it’s 17 percentage points above the total when the first survey was carried out in 2006. In the Americas, 41 percent faced challenges getting the right workers, up from 37 percent last year and 34 percent in 2010.

In Europe, as well as the Middle East and Africa, only one-quarter of employers reported labor shortages, similar in number to last year and not much different from pre-crisis levels. That probably reflects the still-precarious nature of the European economy.

The reason companies said they face shortages? The largest share, or 33 percent, said they simply couldn’t find the workers they need. A key issue was a lack of such hard skills as IT knowledge or facility with a foreign language. Insufficient work experience, a dearth of soft skills, or what the survey called “employability”—meaning characteristics like motivation and interpersonal skills, wanting more money, and being unwilling to work part-time—were also factors, in descending order of importance.

Companies will continue to face challenges regarding talent shortages unless educational systems are changed, argues Joerres, who says a major problem is the skills mismatch—the gap between job-seekers’ abilities and what employers need. One way to fix this is to vastly expand the size and number of trade schools, he says.

“The honor of doing and going through a vocational technical program has diminished. Those who would have gone to that school are now going to a four-year university because parents and society say that is what you should do,” says Joerres. “There are not enough welders, plumbers, and draftsmen. We are seeing shortages in these areas. And the pendulum takes a while to swing back.”

Dexter_roberts
Roberts is Bloomberg Businessweek's Asia News Editor and China bureau chief. Follow him on Twitter @dtiffroberts.

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Companies Mentioned

  • MAN
    (Manpowergroup Inc)
    • $68.59 USD
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