- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Our nation is facing a perplexing dichotomy today. Millions of Americans can’t find jobs - some have even given up looking - yet employers are saying they can’t find the skilled workers they need to fill critical positions.

To some degree, our current unemployment problem is cyclical. To a considerable extent, however, I believe it is structural. This mismatch between abilities and available jobs is a clear sign that yesterday’s skills don’t meet the requirements of today’s workplaces.

From the crews erecting the new World Trade Center in New York City to hospital technicians and aircraft mechanics, America relies on its skilled workers to provide essential services.

In our business, we couldn’t keep electricity flowing to our 5.3 million customers without skilled workers such as line mechanics and power plant operators. When a power plant needs maintenance, we call upon highly skilled individuals such as electricians, pipefitters, boilermakers and dozens of critical disciplines.

Particularly problematic is the fact that many of our nation’s skilled workers are members of the baby boom generation and are rapidly approaching retirement; some have retired already. According to a recent survey by Manpower, skilled trades rank No. 1 in the nation for “difficulty of filling jobs due to the lack of talent.”

That’s why American Electric Power wholeheartedly supports a national campaign to encourage 1 million Americans to sign a pledge and take action in their local communities to support training opportunities for the next generation of skilled workers.

The Center for America’s “10 By 20 Pledge for America Campaign” has a long-range goal of inspiring efforts in communities across America to train 10 million skilled workers in the United States by 2020. It is a nonpartisan, nonpolitical campaign to raise awareness and generate grass-roots support for training skilled workers through education and collaborations between business and labor.

A number of years ago, our company recognized that skilled workers in the baby boom generation were nearing retirement age and there would have to be a concerted effort to replace them. We’re involved in a number of initiatives to develop the next generation of skilled workers, including partnerships with career centers, two-year and four-year colleges, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the building-trade unions. We are also active participants in the Center for Energy Workforce Development. Obviously, though, our nation will need many more skilled workers than just the ones essential for the electric utility business.

We need more collaboration between technical schools, colleges and businesses. We need high-school guidance counselors to tell students about the opportunities these types of positions provide. We need friends and family members to mention skilled occupations when someone is trying to decide on a career - or perhaps transition into a second career.

A shortage of skilled workers in the future could easily cause unthinkable delays and bottlenecks in American commerce. I hope millions of Americans will take the 10 By 20 Pledge and support this vitally needed effort to engage in training a brand new generation of skilled workers.

Michael G. Morris is chief executive officer of American Electric Power.