WASHINGTON -- U.S. manufacturers are faced with an acute shortage of skilled workers, despite near historic unemployment, according to a new survey from Deloitte LLP and The Manufacturing Institute.

The survey, "Boiling Point? The skills gap in U.S. manufacturing," concludes that American manufacturers could hire as many as 600,000 people if they could successfully recruit peole with the right stuff. Deloitte says that number is an extrapolation based on a nationally representative sample of 1,123 executives at manufacturing companies, 5% of which said current manufacturing jobs are unfilled due to a lack of qualified candidates.

The Delotte/Manufacturing Institute's survey comes close on the heals of a study by Boston Consulting Group that as many as 3 million manufacturing jobs, including in furniture, are poised to return from off-shoring.

“The survey shows that 67 percent of manufacturers have a moderate to severe shortage of available, qualified workers,” said Craig Giffi, vice chairman and consumer & industrial products industry leader of Deloitte. “Moreover, 56 percent anticipate the shortage to increase in the next three to five years.”

“These unfilled jobs are mainly in the skilled production category – positions such as machinists, operators, craft workers, distributors and technicians,” said Emily DeRocco, president of, The Manufacturing Institute, an affiliate of the National Association of Manufacturers. “Unfortunately, these jobs require the most training and are traditionally among the hardest manufacturing jobs to find existing talent to fill.”

Sixty-four percent of respondents report that workforce shortages or skills deficiencies in production roles are having a significant impact on their ability to expand operations or improve productivity.

"Ironically, even as unemployment numbers remain bleak, a talent shortage threatens the future effectiveness of the American manufacturing industry,” Giffi said. He noted that when  respondents were asked to look ahead three to five years, they indicated that access to a highly skilled, flexible workforce is the single most important factor in their effectiveness – above factors such as new product innovation and increased market share by a margin of 20 percentage points.

Respondents say the same old approaches are not enough to close the skills gap. Specifically, manufacturers should pursue more creative approaches to recruitment and talent management to make sure they have the necessary skilled personnel to win in the future. For example, they indicate that while workforce planning is important on its own, it is not enough to deliver what manufacturers need. They suggest that fresh approaches in areas such as employer branding can generate big results when pursued in tandem with more traditional approaches.“

“The results of this survey may appear dire,” said Tom Morrison,, principal of Deloitte Consulting “but in reality each of these challenges is surmountable. The United States has among the largest, strongest manufacturing industries in the world and has demonstrated its ability to innovate and adapt time and time again.”

Access the full report, “Boiling Point? The skills gap in U.S. manufacturingl"

Read related blog: U.S. Furniture Industry Can Rebound, but Who Will Do the Work?

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