The Worker Shortage Accelerates

We’ve known that some industries, particularly those requiring a skilled workforce, have been facing a labor shortage for quite some time. And people in every line of business have been worried about the gradual roll-off of the Baby Boomers as they move into retirement.

But according to the Associated Press, those problems are no longer in the future: They are here now. And they’re not going to get any better.

According to the AP:

As America’s job market rebounds this summer and the need for workers intensifies, employers won’t likely have a chance to relax anytime soon. Worker shortages will likely persist for years after the fast-reopening economy shakes off its growing pains.

Consider that the number of working age people did something last year it had never done in the nation’s history: It shrank.

Estimates from the Census Bureau showed that the U.S. population ages 16 through 64 fell 0.1% in 2020 — a scant drop but the first decline of any kind after decades of steady increases. It reflected a sharp fall in immigration, the retirements of the vast baby boom generation and a slowing birth rate. The size of the 16-64 age group was also diminished last year by thousands of deaths from the coronavirus.

While those in the skilled trades have been feeling the pinch for some time, the pandemic created a chaotic situation, with businesses shutting down and a temporarily large population of out of work individuals. As we began to reopen, some of those people decided to either retire early or stay out of the workforce, accelerating us into the current workforce shortage.

And given that the skilled trades were already facing a shortage, it makes sense that they would be the ones to suffer from the newest wave most strongly.

Gad Levanon, an economist at the Conference Board, said the drop in the working age population will be particularly evident among Americans without college degrees. As aging baby boomers retire, they’re being replaced by younger workers who are likelier to be college graduates. Blue-collar workers — anyone without a four-year degree — will become scarcer. That trend will likely create labor shortages in such industries as manufacturing, construction, retail and restaurants and hotels.

Levanon estimates that the number of college graduates will keep growing about 2% a year, despite the population slowdown, while non-college degree holders will dwindle. This could make it harder for future college grads to find jobs commensurate with their education levels. Companies may also inflate their job requirements, perhaps demanding bachelor’s degrees for jobs that didn’t require them before.

“The number of people who are willing to work in blue collar and manual service jobs is shrinking,” Levanon said.

This is a true crisis (and for some, has been for quite a while). CTE is perfectly positioned to help change this story – now is the time to work even more closely with employers in order to address it.

Brett Pawlowski is Executive Vice President of the National Center for College and Career (NC3T) ( NC3T provides planning, coaching, technical assistance, and tools. These strategies help community-based leadership teams plan and implement their college-career pathway systems and strengthen employer connections with education.