There is another side to the U.S. unemployment problem: Believe it or not, there are three million jobs going unfilled.
Employers can't seem to find the right match for more than 200,000 manufacturing jobs alone.
The transportation, utilities and trades sectors have almost half a million jobs open, waiting for the right applicant.
These positions are for vocational or skilled workers, who are in short supply.
Caterpillar Inc. (NYSE: CAT) is but one example of a company that can't find skilled applicants for job openings. The company recently attempted to hire 26 employees, but nobody applied.
Bill Begal, who runs a Rockville, MD-based disaster-cleanup company, told Bloomberg News that he has spent almost $2,000 since March on help-wanted ads in newspapers, websites, and state employment services up and down the East Coast to find sales and administrative staff.
"I want people to come out and work for me," said Begal, 42, whose teams respond to hurricanes, such as Katrina in New Orleans and other natural disasters. "Where are they? I just don't see it."
Robert Funk, chairman and chief executive of Express Employment Professionals, a national staffing firm based in Oklahoma City that helped 335,000 people land jobs last year, told the New York Times: "We currently have 18,000 open job orders we can't fill."
How can so many jobs remain unfilled with U.S. unemployment so high?
One explanation is that many would-be workers lack the necessary skills to fill those positions. "There is higher demand for skilled jobs and less demand for unskilled positions than we've seen coming out of past recessions," Funk said.
Gabriel Shaoolian, chief executive of Blue Fountain Media, a Web design and marketing company with 85 employees in New York, said he had 10 openings right now because his company could not find enough highly qualified people with technical backgrounds.
There is also a growing need for tradesmen, such as auto mechanics, appliance repairmen, plumbers, electricians and more.
Students that take vocational training in high school can graduate on a path that pushes them toward a career. But many instead opt for college and end up not graduating, and lack the skills for many of these in-demand positions.
More young people should give the trades a longer look; salaries in many cases are quite good. And a student beginning his career immediately after high school has a four-year head start compared to classmates who start their job search after college.
The skill gap is widening
Too few young people are learning trades, so as older workers retire many aren't replaced.
For example, one-third of all trades workers in Alabama reaching the age of 55 are retiring, and a lack of qualified welders has delayed the construction of a power plant in Georgia.
"Too many people have turned up their noses at trade school to go to college, and now I am paying for it," said Matt Sher, owner of Day & Night/All Service in New Hyde Park, NY.
"I need workers who have gone through trade school and have taken certain courses. But I see a lot of unemployed college graduates saddled with huge student loan debts. They don't have the skills that I need," he continued. "The lack of skilled technicians is slowing our growth to add markets as aggressively as we may want."
Discovery Channel's Mike Rowe is Seeking Solutions
Mike Rowe, the host of Discovery's Dirty Jobs, is quite passionate about correcting the lack of blue-collar job training. His companies, Mike Rowe Works and Profoundly Disconnected are attempting to make a difference by bridging the gap between job requirements and the skills of job seekers.
According to its website, Mike Rowe Works is "a trade resource center and non-profit foundation designed to reinvigorate the skilled trades."
"My goal here is to challenge the absurd belief that an expensive four-year education is the best path for the most people, and confront the outdated stereotypes that continue to drive kids and parents away from a whole list of worthwhile careers," Rowe said. "Many of the best opportunities that exist today require a skill, not a diploma."
And salaries for blue-collar jobs are higher than you might think.
Take a look at these examples of jobs that don't require a college degree, but require skilled employees:
Elevator Repairmen and Installers
Average Annual Salary: $74,000
Subway and Streetcar Drivers/Operators
Average Annual Salary: $59,000
Rotary Drill Operators, Oil and Gas
Average Annual Salary: $58,540
Average Annual Salary: $52,920
Average Annual Salary: $50,760
And here are some trade jobs salaries from Salaries.com:
- Aircraft Painter I is $37,384
- Assembly Supervisor is $57,972
- Machine Operator I is $29,690
- Machine Operator III is $40,763
- Videographer is $57,638
- Plumber I is $40,873
- Crane Operator III is $43,161
Currently, the toughest jobs to find qualified employees for are:
- Sales representative
- Machine operator/assembler/production worker
- Truck driver
- Software developer
- Marketing professional
- IT manager/network administrator
There are 11.8 million Americans out of work. The current unemployment rate is 7.6%.
Nationally there are three million unfilled jobs waiting for anyone with the right skill to fill the vacancy.
It might be time to explore adding more vocational tech class to high school programs.
The Fed also plays a role in hampering companies from investing in new jobs. Read here.