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Closing the Manufacturing Skills Gap

By Jill Jusko | Industry Week

As baby boomers begin to exit the workforce, manufacturers look to influence the youth of today about the promise of manufacturing careers.

At Air Products & Chemicals Inc., about 150 skilled-labor jobs are open and unfilled at any given time in the United States. The positions run the gamut from welders and instrument electrical technicians who work with sophisticated controls to diesel mechanics, pipe fitters and mechanical engineering technicians.

Those unfilled positions represent 38% of the roughly 400 skilled-worker positions Air Products attempts to hire each year for its U.S. workforce, which numbers about 7,500.

"In some cases [a position] takes as long as a year to fill because of a mismatch of skills, either in the skills area we need or in the geographic area where we need that skill," says John McGlade, chairman, president and CEO of the Allentown, Pa.-based firm.

'It's a concern for Air Products (IW 500/107), and not only in the skilled labor arena" although that is where McGlade says the issue is most acute for Air Products - but across multiple talent levels. "We can't grow our business without talent at all different levels, with all different skill sets," the CEO says.

Like many U.S. manufacturers, Air Products attributes its talent shortages in part to an aging baby boomer generation who have begun their exodus from the U.S. workforce. The oldest baby boomers turned 65 on Jan. 1, 2011, and every day thereafter for about the next 19 years, some 10,000 more will reach the traditional retirement age, according to the Pew Research Center.

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