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It’s not just trained welders who are hard to find these days. American industry is struggling with a “skills gap” that also leaves it critically short of machinists, electricians and other skilled workers.

Finding, hiring and retaining employees is a huge challenge for the nation’s manufacturers.

Currently there’s an estimated 600,000 manufacturing jobs that are unfilled because companies can’t find workers that have the skills needed to perform in those positions. And this number is steadily increasing.

In a recent study, 89 percent of the manufacturers surveyed acknowledged the skills gap problem.

Partly it’s a matter of demographics. Many of today’s skilled trades workers are nearing retirement age and too few younger people are available to replace them.

Why is this happening?

Money isn’t the issue. Some assume that skilled trade jobs simply don’t pay enough. That’s far from the truth. A starting job in a skilled trade often starts around $40,000, plus benefits. While that may be less than an engineer or medical professional might make, it’s equal to or greater than the starting wages of many jobs that require a four-year degree.

The problem isn’t about money. The problem is the deep-rooted misconceptions that people have about working in manufacturing and other industrial sectors.

A college degree has been pushed as the end-all, be-all solution for a successful future. Blue collar jobs, on the other hand, have been mistakenly labeled as ones for unskilled or poorly educated workers.

Erasing the outdated image of manufacturing jobs as dark, dirty and dangerous won’t be an easy task. But until that happens, good-paying jobs for welders, machinists and other skilled positions will remain unfilled.

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