Before he graduated from Penn-Trafford High School, Maxx Biesuz heard from a lot of people that he was "too smart" to become a machinist.
But he said deciding to attend a technical school and learn that trade was the best choice he ever made.
"That jumpstarted my career before anyone else even had one," said Biesuz, 18, of Delmont, who graduated from high school this spring.
He is an apprentice machinist at Stellar Precision Components. On Tuesday nights, he takes classes at the Central Westmoreland Career & Technology Center in New Stanton, paid for by his employer. In four years, Biesuz said, he will qualify as a journeyman machinist and he expects his $20,000-a-year salary to jump to $30,000 or even $40,000.
Many employers say the United States has too few people like Biesuz. A shortage of skilled-trade workers -- such as machinists, electricians and welders -- could be hampering the country's economic recovery, they argue.
A survey published last month by Manpower Inc., a Milwaukee- based international job-placement company, showed that U.S. employers consider finding skilled-trade workers as their No. 1 hiring challenge.
"It's a problem that countries must address for the long term to foster economic health and fuel business," the report said.
At the same time, President Obama last month called on the United States to produce 8 million more college graduates by 2020, "because America has to have the highest share of graduates compared to every other nation."
Obama said ensuring American workers succeed in the 21st century hinges on providing them access to the best education the world has to offer.
Putting so much emphasis on college education worries Jeff Kelly, CEO and owner of Hamill Manufacturing in Westmoreland County. His precision-machine and fabricating company primarily contracts with the defense industry. He said his employees make between $25,000 and $70,000 a year.
"If you look at the macro level, there aren't going to be enough people to replace the workers we're going to lose.
"Who's going to do the work that needs to be done, like the linemen to keep the electricity on?" Kelly said.
John Hammang, spokesman for the Washington-based American Association of State Colleges and Universities, said the demand for many trade jobs has declined.
"An awful lot of manufacturing is now done outside the country," Hammang said, adding that he doesn't foresee that dynamic changing soon.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment in installation, maintenance and repair occupations increased to 9.5 percent last month from 8.1 percent in August 2009.
"The main problem in the labor market right now, it seems to me, is one of weak demand and not so much a problem of mismatch between the skills of the unemployed and the needs of employers," University of Pittsburgh labor economist Alexis Leon said. …