In the United States, at this moment, there are two very separate groups of industrial workers: low skill workers and high skill workers. Which group are you part of and what’s the difference?
Generally speaking, low skill industrial workers are those that use very little specialized skill and training to complete their jobs functions. These workers are largely interchangeable with most other low skill workers. Low skill jobs have come under intense pressure since the 1970s due to accelerations in industrial business automation and process improvement and the offshoring of low skill work to other countries. No one likes to be rendered redundant by technology or lose their job to foreign workers, but it is a common occurrence among the low skill workforce.
Why are wages so meager for low skill industrial workers? For some positions (such as low-skill production line assemblers) the pool of workers available and able to complete these unskilled tasks is large and therefore there is easy access to talent and excess supply within the labor market, keeping wages low. Two additional limiting factors are the ease at which companies have been able to 1) automate away these positions to reduce demand for workers and 2) move production overseas as necessary. Unfortunately, low skill industrial workers reside in a vulnerable spot at the center of a perfect storm of negative forces suppressing their wages and professional opportunities.
In contrast to low skill workers, high skill industrial workers are in tremendous demandin our economy. Decades of labor productivity improvements and automation have left certain positions impossible to automate or eliminate, such as more skilled and complex positions that require significant experience and training (such as electromechanical assemblers, CNC set-up machinists and programmers and certified welders). As high tech manufacturing has continued to experience a resurgence in the United States, these high skilled workers are in very high demand and short supply. To make the situation more challenging, fewer young people are pursuing these positions, high skill Baby Boomers are nearing retirement, and it takes a very long time for new workers who do pursue these positions to become fully trained. These market characteristics mean that employers have no choice but to value these workers immensely. They have recognized that they need to attract and retain them and therefore pay strong wages and offer enticing benefits.
These market characteristics also mean that there is likely not to be any major change in the demand for high skill industrial workers any time soon. Even as new recessions occur in the future, the skilled labor shortage will likely remain. It means that high skill industrial workers have unparalleled demand for their skills which low skill workers should surely envy. Given a choice, wouldn’t you choose career stability, higher wages, and committed employers?
Who wins between low skill and high skill workers? Clearly high skill workers!
The most common question asked from low-skill workers is: how do I become high-skilled?
As a low skill worker, you can become high skilled by committing yourself to advancing your skills through experience and training on the job or through an accredited trade school. You may be able to enter a high skill job track within your existing employer by expressing interest in the training required to get you to the higher level of skill and competence. In other cases, perhaps at night, you might enroll and complete a skillsprogram at a local trade school. These programs have the dual benefit of providing valuable skills and also signaling to employers your commitment to your new career track and trade. Once you have acquired these high value skills you will have made yourself of enormous value to a range of employers.
We don’t want to make this journey sound easy. It’s not. It can be littered with obstacles, whether it is naysaying friends and family, personal distractions, entrance fees, college courses that can take a substantial time investment, or just the unfamiliarity of the future. These barriers work as a filter for less-ambitious workers, which means that the most successful individuals will be those that have persistence. If you can stay focused on and motivated by your trade or chosen field, you can continue to climb the ladder even when you slip a rung or two along the way.
While the definition of high skill industrial work may be broad, there are a number of occupations that always are in high demand:
For instance, welders remain in high demand, whether as standard fabricators all the way up to exotic positions like underwater welders.
Xemplar Workforce Solutions provides career resources as well as recruiting services to top professionals and the companies that employ them in manufacturing, transportation, energy, automation/robotics, industrial services and many other industries. We enable machinists, mechanics, welders, fabricators, electricians, installers, quality control techs, service techs and other related tradespeople to find great opportunities and achieve their greatest potential in their fields. Learn more about Xemplar here.