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A generation of skilled tradespeople are starting to retire. And the next generation isn't filling those positions.
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updated 6/6/2012 8:21:13 AM ET 2012-06-06T12:21:13

According to the seventh annual talent shortage survey from staffing firm ManpowerGroup, 49 percent of employers in all industries are experiencing difficulty filling open positions within their organizations, despite the fact that millions of people are still desperate for jobs and unemployment remains stuck at more than 8 percent.

ManpowerGroup surveyed more than 1,300 U.S. employers in the first quarter of 2012 to determine which employees rank among the most-wanted. The most difficult positions to fill are those in skilled trades, which includes carpenters, plumbers, electricians and other tool-wielding professionals. Those workers, also known as craftsmen or artisans, typically develop their skills through training as apprentices. They top Manpower’s list for a third consecutive year.

Employers are also having trouble filling positions in information technology, accounting and nursing.

Forbes.com slideshow: The 10 hardest jobs to fill in America

“Talent is elusive, and the reason is there is a great divide between the talent available and the talent desired by employers,” says Melanie Holmes, a vice president at ManpowerGroup. “To put it simply, there is a talent mismatch.”

As hiring picks up in the U.S. and more positions are available, Holmes expects that the talent mismatch will become even more apparent. Why? During the recession, employers made broad, deep cuts to their workforces. They learned to do more with less, Holmes explains. “People who remained employed expanded their roles; they picked up new skills, they added responsibilities.”

As a result, many of the jobs that were cut during that time are not coming back. They have morphed into higher skill and higher paying positions. Consequently employers are more selective about the skills they require for an open job.

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“They are looking for people who have multiple skill sets and varied backgrounds, and those individuals are hard to find, especially among individuals who have been out of the job market for an extended period of time,” adds Holmes.

According to the survey results, 55 percent of employers say they are having trouble filling jobs because of a lack of applicants. A close second, 54 percent of employers, say that applicants are looking for more pay than is offered. The third most common reason employers say they are having difficulty is that applicants lack experience.

When looking at the skilled trades shortage specifically, there are several forces at play. First, there is the demographic element, Holmes says. “Many skilled tradespeople are older and beginning to retire. As we’re losing workers to retirement, we’re finding that there is not enough young talent to fill the ranks. We have seen less emphasis on steering youth toward vocational and technical programs over the last 20 years, and now we’re feeling the impact.”

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Part of solving this problem involves changing the mindsets of parents and young people and bringing honor back to the skilled trades, she says. Careers in areas like plumbing and welding offer a lot of opportunity and family-sustaining wages.

It turns out geography also plays a significant role. Skilled trades workers may be in short supply in one region but find it tough to find a job elsewhere. The same goes for engineers (No. 2), machinists (No. 9) and teachers (No. 10).

If you’re a qualified teacher or a talented engineer actively seeking employment, you may be frustrated hearing that the job you’re pursuing is one of the most difficult to fill, but it’s important to remember that employers have developed new standards since the downturn, Holmes says.

Forbes.com: The best- and worst-paying jobs in America

“Job seekers are also responsible for their futures,” she adds.” It’s critical that young people complete high school and pursue additional training, whether it’s through a four-year college or a vocational program. Mid-career individuals also need to have a training mindset, continually sharpening and expanding their skill sets to increase their employability.”

To further solve the talent mismatch problem, employers need to broaden their approach to recruiting and hiring, she says. “Employers must leverage flexible workforce models that integrate a dynamic mix of workers; advance contemporary people practices that redefine how talent is hired, rewarded, engaged and developed; and improve talent pipelines by tapping different resources of talent and re-skilling current employees.”

Forbes.com: When an employer requires experience and you have none
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© 2012 Forbes.com

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