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Why is there a lack of skilled workers in the St. Louis region?

Stan Shoun (left) and Chris Mallow (right)  address the lack of skilled workers in the region.
Lara Hamdan | St. Louis Public Radio
Stan Shoun (left) and Chris Mallow (right) address the lack of skilled workers in the region.

There are plenty of well-paying jobs open across the region and country looking to be filled – but there is a shortage of skilled workers to fill them.

On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh discussed the shortage of skilled tradesmen and women in the region. Chris Mallow, director of standard products at Watlow, and Ranken Technical College president Stan Shoun joined the discussion to address what can be done moving forward.

Mallow said Watlow and similar companies are trying to hire new people to handle the companies’ growth while also trying to replace really experienced skilled workers.

“It’s really compounded the problem for us,” he said. “It’s not only at our engineering level; it is at the technician, skilled tradesmen and at our operator level as well.”

Shoun said the sheer number of qualified workers and the loss of technical schools are among the causes for the decline in trade skills.

“There are six million unfilled jobs in the U.S. right now; 77 million baby boomers trying to retire; U.S. population is in decline; immigration is a bad word,” Shoun said, listing reasons why skilled workers are hard to find. “You got the numeric side of it, but you also got the preparation side of it as well.”

Shoun mentioned that the negative perception and stereotyping of technical schools is leading to their decline. He said there is a misconception that college is the only path towards success in the country.

“We’re actually educating less technical people,” Shoun said. “Until we grasp that and until we refocus, the economy is not going to move. Simple.” He also wants to see the end of stigmatization towards women with trade skills and encourages more women to attend trade schools.

Shoun said Ranken places 97 percent of students within six months of graduation. The average beginning salary is $33,000 to $36,000.

Last year, Watlow added 50 jobs to their St. Louis location, Mallow said. There are currently 15 to 25 open positions, ranging from operators to technicians and engineers.

He said somebody with a two-year degree from Ranken with no experience would start between $40,000 and $45,000 a year with 401k eligibility and health insurance.

But Mallow said not finding workers soon enough potentially limits the company’s ability to grow.

“We have the work for our customers. We’re waiting to get people to help us deliver on that work,” he said.

Listen for the full discussion: 


St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Lara is the Engagement Editor at St. Louis Public Radio.

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