In its Labor Day Report 2005, the National Association of Manufacturers (Washington) warns that manufacturing will employ fewer and fewer people in low-skill jobs. Tomorrow's manufacturing jobs will be for those with education in science, engineering and mathematics, and for those with high-skill technical training.

In fact, the single most important issue facing the U.S. automotive industry in the next 5 to 10 years is the looming skilled labor shortage, says Kim Hill, automotive communities program director for the Center for Automotive Research (Ann Arbor, MI). This shortage will have a direct impact on the bottom line. Senior automotive executives predict the shortage in skilled labor will cost individual companies $50 million on average over the next 5 years, according to a survey commissioned by Advanced Technology Services Inc. (Peoria, IL).

Paradoxically, General Motors (Detroit)-currently the world's largest automaker-just announced plans to close nine manufacturing sites and several more nonmanufacturing facilities, and cut 30,000 jobs over the next 3 years. Across town, Ford Motor Co. (Dearborn, MI) also plans to cut 4,000 salaried jobs in the United States in the first quarter of next year as part of a massive restructuring plan. Announcing the cuts, Ford stated that its chief rivals are more competitive on quality and cost, more efficient in operations, and increasing market share and profitability.

Some would suggest that all this is nothing more than the usual ups and downs in supply and demand driven by market forces. Layoffs at buggy whip manufacturing companies with the advent of the automobile are cited ad infinitum in support of this argument, which is, more often than not, correct.

Today, however, with Toyota poised to unseat GM as the No. 1 automaker on the planet, and GM announcing this sweeping plan to cut jobs and close plants, it is possible that we are seeing a historic disconnect in the jobs market. The "normal" forces of supply and demand appear to be out of balance on an unprecedented scale.

This is nothing that cannot be overcome. But the growing trend toward outsourcing high-end jobs and the explosive growth of higher education in many developing countries are shifting the global talent pool. While the teachers unions in the United States are more concerned with tenure than they are with genuine improvements in preparing young students for technical education, China and India are producing more engineers than all industrial countries combined.

Preparing our young people-who are tomorrow's adult citizens-to take their places in tomorrow's job market is one of the most important challenges facing the United States today. Sadly, I don't believe that today's politicians and teachers unions are up to the task, and whether they are even genuinely concerned about addressing this challenge is open to serious question.