Chain Reactions

Help Wanted: Skilled -- But Cheap -- Labor

"Manufacturers just cannot find enough skilled labor." If I heard that once, I heard it a hundred times or more this past week, at the big IMTS factory automation show in Chicago. The specific type of skilled labor manufacturers are looking for is machinists, i.e., people savvy enough to operate the continually evolving and increasingly sophisticated machine tools and systems that get a lot of credit for helping U.S. manufacturers remain globally competitive. "If we can't beat the Chinese on labor costs, at least we can beat 'em with our technology" was a frequent refrain at IMTS.

One of the big draws at the show was a life-size model of a cutaway interior portion of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, as well as a parts display by Boeing Phantom Works. If ever there was a project that absolutely, positively, no-two-ways-about-it relied on skilled labor, it would be the Dreamliner.

Interesting, then, to read this article in the Wall Street Journal about the machinists strike at Boeing. I direct your attention to this paragraph in particular:

"Although many suppliers say they hope Boeing's labor dispute is resolved quickly, some are also privately rooting for Boeing to hold strong. They know that any concessions Boeing makes will likely surface in their own labor negotiations down the road. 'It's a global industry in more ways than one,' said an executive at a supplier."

Sounds like the big problem isn't so much a shortage of skilled labor as it is a shortage of low-cost skilled labor. Which seems like an oxymoron, but apparently Boeing's need for skilled labor and its need to produce Dreamliners (currently two years behind schedule, and slipping even further with every day the strike continues) takes a backseat to its need to keep the upper hand on wages.

TAGS: Supply Chain
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