Analysis; US Companies Face Skilled Labor Shortage

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Byline: NICK ZIEMINSKI Reuters

NEW YORK (Reuters) -- US employers are facing a considerable shortage of skilled workers and have started to go after students as young as middle schoolers to build the kind of labor force they will need in the future.

The issue has become a boardroom concern, with gaps already seen in high-demand areas like engineering, health care and accounting, executives and analysts said last week.

"What will inevitably happen (is) big employers are not just going to be in the business of finding labor, they'll be in the business of making labor," said Marcel Legrand, Monster Worldwide Inc.'s senior vice president of strategy and corporate development.

So far, companies spend about $100 million a year on "making labor" efforts, a small piece of total recruitment spending of about $7 billion a year. But that figure will grow in coming years if the efforts show results, Legrand said.

"There's just not enough people coming out of the system," Legrand said, adding the shortage will eventually affect earnings at companies unable to meet demand for their products and services.

Rick Stephens, who heads the human resources team at Boeing Co. , said there is a looming shortage of skilled workers, but that he's less concerned with narrow technical competency than with other abilities.

"When I think about the skills that we need, whether it's Boeing or any other industry, it's people who are able to think, able to solve problems, who are able to communicate and work well with others, that they understand what goes on in the marketplace," Stephens said. "These are basic skills that everyone needs to have."

The shortages will become acute within the next five to 10 years, Stephens said, but can be addressed if businesses, the government and educators integrate their efforts, rather than working piecemeal as they do now.

"CEOs are spending a lot of time on ... the workforce pipeline," he said.

Elsewhere, signs of a crunch are already apparent.

"We have a shortage of pharmacists, not only at CVS but within the industry," said Steve Wing, director of government programs for No. 2 US drugstore chain CVS Corp.

Wing's division works with government, nonprofits and business to promote chemistry, biology and calculus. …