There’s a storm brewing in America. A recent Vox article highlights a shocking mismatch between the number of job vacancies (7.4 million) and the number actively looking for work (6 million). For the first time since records began in December of 2000, employers are struggling to fill vacancies across a range of industries. Even more surprising is that these are primarily ‘blue-collar’ industries, where workers are typically paid by the hour or by piece rate, and the work tends to be manual in nature. It appears that America may be too high-skilled for its own good.

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The shortages are a result of converging demographic, educational, and economic trends in the US economy. Younger generations of Americans increasingly go to college and seek white-collar careers, while the Baby Boomers of the post-war era that previously filled many blue-collar roles are beginning to retire en masse. With most other developed economies already following America’s demographic trends, significant economic risks are looming around the globe for any organisation relying on blue-collar work, or inputs from it. As labour scarcity worsens, “companies looking to attract enough blue-collar workers will have to continue increasing wages and, as a result, possibly experience diminished profits,” says Gad Levanon, lead report author and Chief Economist of North America at The Conference Board. However, with these risks comes the potential for huge gains for organisations successfully managing the worker shortages. …


Tom Goulding

Researcher and keen runner with an MPhil and BA in Economics from the University of Cambridge.

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