America, we have a problem

Oct. 1, 2007
Theres trouble right here in America. Thats Trouble with a capital T, which rhymes with P, and that stands for population. My grandson, who started school

There’s trouble right here in America. That’s Trouble with a capital T, which rhymes with P, and that stands for population.

My grandson, who started school this year, is preparing for some job that does not exist today. He’ll use some technology yet to be invented to solve some problem we can’t imagine.

You and I have spent most of our working lives in the Age of the Atlantic. Now, it’s the Age of the Pacific. “Time was,” said John Nofsinger, CEO of the Material Handling Industry of America, “when shifts in demographics were considered long-term drivers of business strategy.”

Those days are gone. Speaking at the HK Systems Material Handling and Logistics Conference, Nofsinger said, “The reality has abruptly changed. Shifts are influencing shorter-term strategies and even tactical plans.”

This has all happened within less than one management generation, by the way.

If you think I’m trying to scare you—you’re right. Fear and adrenaline are great motivators. You won’t find many who’d argue against the fact that America is a consumerdriven economy. China is the largest supplier of consumer goods. And, the largest supplier of material handling and logistics solutions to China is the European Union. These things do not add up to a strong future for industry in America.

There are reams of statistics about our aging and dwindling workforce. (See Senior Editor Mary Aichlmayr’s story, starting on page 42, on hiring disabled workers as a possible solution.) The numbers relating to the educated worker are the ones that frighten me most. We’re headed for a serious educated-worker shortfall in the near future. We’re facing a six million college-educated worker shortfall. Within the next 15 years, there will be a 15% decline in the 35-to-44-year age group.

Another speaker at the HK Systems Conference, Ira Wolfe, president of Success Performance Solutions, calls all these numbers the “Perfect Storm” of labor. “Together,” said Wolfe, “these trends threaten to produce a rare resource void in the supply chain.”

He noted that the 25% of the population in China with the highest IQs is greater than the total population of North America. In India, it’s the top 28%. Wolfe added that, as recently as 1991, fewer than 50% of U.S. jobs required skilled workers; however, by 2015, it’s estimated that 76% of U.S. jobs will demand highly skilled employees.

So, what can we do about this? Consider an investment in people as critical as an investment in any other asset or capital improvement. There are education programs being launched by associations such as the Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association (MHEDA, Your company can join a growing list of companies that offer scholarships through Material Handling Industry of America (MHIA, And, if you really want to know how material handling and education are coming together, check out what the College-Industry Council on Material Handling Education ( is doing now for the future of the industry.

Time to put your money where our future is.

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