Does Low Pay Account for Skilled Worker Shortage?

By Bill Esler | Posted: 12/08/2012 10:00AM


  Last week I visited a plywood veneer plant company that has been tooling up with equipment, including a couple automated splicers, and now plans on adding employees. 

The biggest challenge? "Hiring,"the plant manager told me. "You wouldn't think it would be, with unemployment like it is. But it is hard to find people."

For the expanding wood industry, workers come from general applicants, vocational training programs, and from other industries that are shedding works.

The woodshop at the Greater West Town Training Partnership (GWTTP) in Chicago is one example of potential sources of workers. The inner city Chicago training center is housed in brightly lit quarters - the shop recently relocated to a factory remodeled to LEED standards - with late model panel processing and woodworking tools, and trainers.

It also boasts a list of wood manufacturers seeking grads.

GWTTP holds weekly open houses and promotes itself reasonably well to business and the community. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) have been recent visitors, praising the facility as a model for training workers.

GWTTP's Woodworking and Solid Surface Manufacturing Training Program has graduated 589 trainees since it launched in 1993. Instructor Doug Rappe is also a trained Woodwork Career Alliance Skill evaluator - which allows him to verify candidates from his training center, or other woodworking businesses, and issue passport stamps certifying their skills.

Yet GWTTP is encountering the same challenges in attracting students found in other woodworking training and wood industry businesses.

"What we don't have enough of is students," says Rappe. Why with jobs open and training available are there not enough applicants?

Finding skilled tradesmen and apprentice tradesmen is getting harder in many fields, such as  metalworking and welding, says author Adam Davidson, because, he suspects, the pay is too low.

Davidson says, the shortage of candidates for skilled careers may be a product of a resistance to raising pay to attract workers.

Forbes magazine picked up on Davidson's idea, reporting that the Bureau of Labor Statistics finds the number of skilled jobs is dropping, as are wages. But the number of openings will rise, as more people retire and housing improves. This would suggest salaries should increase.

"There very well may be lots of open jobs in this field, but for a median salary of $19K," says J. Maureen Henderson, "workers might opt to work retail – where the median salary for a sales associate is around $25K - and fold sweaters."

 Is Henderson right?


. There very well may be lots of open jobs in this field, but for a median salary of $19K, plenty of prospective personal care workers might opt to work retail – where the median salary for a sales associate is around $25K


About the Author

Bill Esler, Woodworking Network, WMS

Bill Esler

Bill Esler, Editorial Director, Woodworking Network Bill is responsible for overall content at Woodworking Network magazine, and related newsletters. Bill also manages event programs for Woodworking Network Live conferences at the Woodworking Machinery & Supplies Expo in Toronto and Cabinets & Closets Expo. He developing audience engagement programs using custom digital printing, live lead-generating events, custom websites, and custom digital and print content. Read Bill Esler's woodworking blogs. He can be reached at or follow him on Google+.

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Rick Hill    
December, 11, 2012 at 08:23 AM

Bill, great article on the training and the salary problems in our industry. The skills learned are key to the income expected. There are several options for training of woodworkers, Skills USA, WCA, WoodLINKS USA, Tech Schools and even high school shop programs. As Director of WoodLINKS USA, I am always asked if I know of a few good graduates. My response is usually, "How much time and money have you contributed to your local training programs?" You have to contribute now to get workers in the future. We get what we pay for.

Canada  |  December, 17, 2012 at 08:44 AM

Most jobs in the small number of woodworking factories here are low paying and quite often taken by a spouse of a person with a higher paying job. With an income under $30K you can't qualify for a mortgage. A lot of these people will leave as soon as they find something better creating another headache of training new employees constantly. Our schools seem to be pushing the students toward a university education and away form the trades. Shop classes in high schools are few and the people teaching them are not trades people and know very little about the industry or the trade. Without some exposure to the trades how would you expect a student to pick one and move forward to a career ? Industry doesn't want to pay and the school boards don't want to spend.


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