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The U.S. Skills Gap: Could It Threaten a Manufacturing Renaissance?

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  • Projected Future Gaps

    Although there is limited evidence of a skills crisis today, we believe that long-term concerns at the national level could be more serious—if companies do not do more to develop future talent. (See Exhibit 4.) Our estimate of a potential shortfall of around 875,000 machinists, welders, industrial-machinery mechanics, and industrial engineers by 2020 is based on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, as well as our projections of demand growth.


    New skilled workers will be needed not only to keep pace with expected growth in U.S. manufacturing production but also to replace professionals who are expected to retire from the U.S. labor force. The U.S. had 370,000 machinists as of 2010, for example, and demand is projected to reach 522,000 in 2020, primarily because of market growth and manufacturing work that has been repatriated from countries such as China and from high-cost economies. However, it can be assumed that around 113,000 machinists will retire before 2020. If these forecasts are correct, an additional 264,000 machinists must join the U.S. workforce to meet demand in 2020. The talent gaps for welders, engineers, and machinery mechanics could be just as severe.