With the economy down and unemployment up, jobs are a hot topic this election. As industry starts to feel the economic pinch, plants are closing, workers are being laid off and some companies are facing bankruptcy. But there are jobs aplenty in the material handling industry and the associated industries of logistics, fulfillment and warehousing.
There’s a severe shortage of qualified industrial workers in America, particularly in material handling fields, that holds promise for job-seekers. The material handling industry is expected to be “50% short in terms of employees needed by 2010,” said Virginia Wheeler, executive director of the Material Handling Industry of America’s (MHIA) Education Foundation. The growing worker shortfall guarantees job security well into the next decade for people going into material handling jobs in warehouses, fulfillment centers, logistics operations, and factories.
“Our industry is begging for people,” said Dan Quinn, MHIA VP for education. He feels America’s high schools are undercutting the value of the trade jobs that built and continue to build America. “A lot of schools measure themselves on the percentage of students who go on to college,” Quinn criticized. “Schools should embrace the concept that non-college-bound students are still valuable contributors to the economy and society.”
The reality is that many high school students are not interested in pursuing a college education for a wide variety of reasons. Many simply prefer hands-on, physical work to sitting at a desk. Many are anxious to get out on their own and lack the interest in four more years of schooling. Many do not have the financial resources to consider college but must provide for themselves immediately after high school graduation. As the recession deepens, finances are expected to play an increasing role in education/work decisions. Some high school juniors and seniors, like Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s future son-in-law, have already been forced to drop out of school to help support their families. Some employers are offering their employees the opportunity to complete their high school education through GED programs.
It’s unfortunate that many high school guidance counselors are so focused on college that they ignore the positive opportunities available in material handling industries. Raising awareness of job opportunities is one of the primary challenges facing the material handling industry, said Alan Howie, author of Fundamentals of Warehousing and Distribution. “. . . the essential problem is we have to get the message out there that . . . work in the material handling industry is much more than a manual labor job. It’s a career in a high-tech industry. Our challenge is to build awareness of all of this in the schools and colleges.”