Managers in manufacturing industries across the country are having trouble filling jobs.
Reflecting that situation is the number of jobs posted at WoodworkingNetwork's career site, which has increase 25%, to well over 500 wood industry positions any given day. But the traffic to these available positions has slowed. That suggests people are already working, just as more job openings are begging to be filled.
For woodworking businesses, the longer term solution is to attract more young people to enter the field. But that takes years, and faces an uncertain outcome.
To get young people into the wood manufacturing employment pipeline, we have to nurture the movement toward STEM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Math) oriented education, and coax students through the curricula and chart employment course afterward.
But the work is at hand now, delivery dates loom, and the bustling economy has a "use by" freshness date that will pass in a couple years.
The solution? More technology - not only machinery, but new technology in materials, parts, and software applications.
The woodworking industry has a mixed record on technology investment. In a historic analysis of U.S. furniture manufacturing, economics writer Marc Levinson found "in the 1990s, U.S. furniture making was a backward industry. Its productivity - the efficiency with with capital and labor are put to use - grew only one-third as fast as in manufacturing overall. While firms in other industries were investing in laser cutters and fave-axis milling machines, furniture makers were devoting only 2.6% of their revenue to capital investment. Instead they relied heavily on cheap labor, paying their average worker 29% less than the average in all manufacturing.
In "America Inc.'s Cure for Higher Wage costs: Start Spending," Justin Lahart at the Wall St. Journal notes. "A tighter job market will cut into many companies' bottom lines." While American corporations slashed capital spending - nationally capital spending has averaged 5.2% of countries total economic output, or Gross Domestic Product - versus 6.5% in the 50 years before that.
"One consequence of weakness in capital spending,: Productivity has been low," Lahart says. "Over the last five years the average workers output has grown at just 1.3% annually - significantly lower then the 2.3% average across the 20 years before the recession."
This was not a problem when wages were low. But the labor shortage is changing that, as workers top out in their job loads. Companies have reached a point where, says Lahart, "It is hard to get more work out of employees." Average hours in construction, which includes the architectural woodworking and custom cabinet making businesses, are at peak levels, not seen since World War II.
Company business managers expect capital spending to increase 9.3% over the next 12 months, a 50% increase since a Duke University's last survey of the number.
Look at your own business, and then take a look a serious look at coming to the International Woodworking Fair 2014. I expect to see you there.
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