There’s a Skills Gap in the US. Are Vocational and Technical Schools the Answer?

Did you know the US is experiencing a manufacturing skills gap that could cost the economy more than $1 trillion? As manufacturing and trade industries continue to grow, so does the demand for talent. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough skilled workers to keep up. A report by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute found that this skills gap could leave more than two million jobs unfilled by 2030. Highlights include:

  • Entry-level production jobs aren’t being filled. High school graduates and workers displaced from other industries are prime candidates, but the number of incoming applications is low.
  • Jobs for employees with mid-level skills aren’t being filled either. These roles include:
    • Assemblers and fabricators
    • First-line supervisors
    • Inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers, weighers
    • Production workers


The construction industry is in a similar boat. A report from the Associated General Contractors of America revealed that 89% of contractors are struggling to find qualified workers. 61% say the shortage of construction workers has delayed projects. There’s a shortage of plumbers too.

All Education and Career Paths are Valid. No Stigma Necessary.

At The Myers-Briggs Company, we often explore the landscape of higher education as it relates to two- and four-year institutions. However, we can’t ignore the very real demand for skilled workers who may not need a traditional education to thrive. Additionally, costs can be prohibitive and not everyone wants to take on student loan debt. If we – and the educators who work alongside us – care deeply about student success and persistence, part of that involves encouraging students to explore all the post-high school options available to them.

Unfortunately, there’s still some unnecessary shame involved with choosing an alternative route like certification programs or vocational school. These thought-provoking stories in The Atlantic sum up the stigma well:

“Toren Reesman knew from a young age that he and his brothers were expected to attend college and obtain a high-level degree . . . [Reesman] got into West Virginia University – but he began his freshman year with dread. He had spent his summers in high school working for his pastor at a custom-cabinetry company. He looked forward each year to honing his woodworking skills, and took joy in creating beautiful things . . . After his first year of college, he decided not to return. He says pursuing custom woodworking as his lifelong trade was disappointing to his father, but Reesman stood firm in his decision, and became a cabinetmaker. He says his father is now proud and supportive, but breaking family expectations in order to pursue his passion was a difficult choice for Reesman – one that many young people are facing in the changing job market.”

“Erin Funk says she ran into a friend recently, and ‘as we were catching up, I mentioned that my eldest had decided to go to the vocational-technical school in our city. Her first reaction was, ‘Oh, is he having problems at school?’ I am finding as I talk about this that there is an attitude out there that the only reason you would go to a vo-tech is if there’s some kind of problem at a traditional school.’ The Funks’ son has a 3.95 GPA. He was simply more interested in the [vocational] program . . .”

Early Intervention is Key for Educational Persistence & Career Success

To persist with their education and move on to fulfilling careers, high school and college-age students should feel empowered to step into accessible learning environments that align with their interests and goals. For some, this requires a traditional two- or four-year institution. For others, it requires relatively brief training (under two years) where they’re equipped with practical skills. Industries such as automotive mechanics, carpentry, cosmetology, home inspection, HVAC, medical coding, plumbing, and others make the intricacies of our lives possible. These industries are vital – and so is the type of training their students and apprentices receive.

Vocational or technical education options may seem more straightforward than traditional institutions, however there are some roadblocks educators must consider. For example, the Deloitte and Manufacturing Institute report concluded that a significant portion of the current manufacturing workforce doesn’t have the digital skills required to succeed in the future. This presents a good opportunity for career programs to include more modern digital skills in their curriculum. In the next post, we’ll share some examples of schools that are making these changes and equipping the next generation of skilled workers.

There’s a Skills Gap in the US. Are Vocational and Technical Schools the Answer?

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