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Who's looking to hire? Top 10 hard-to-fill jobs hold surprising lessons.

A recent study suggests that most of the hardest-to-fill jobs in the US do not require college degrees. It points to the need for greater vocational training to cut unemployment.

By Curt HopkinsContributor / July 18, 2012

Machinist Brendan Smith works at the Miller Weldmaster production facility in Navarre, Ohio. Machinists are in short supply, according to a new survey of American businesses.

Aaron Josefczyk/REUTERS/File

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Did you hear about the job shortage? Probably not, amid all the talk about the chronic 8-plus percent unemployment rate and debate over which presidential candidate would be the better job creator. But there are a number of industries looking for workers, and according to a recent survey, they're not all in fields that can be filled only with college graduates and foreign computer whizzes. 

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They are sales reps, accountants, drivers, machinists, and people in skilled trades like plumbing. In fact, seven of the top 10 hardest jobs to fill in the US don't require a college degree, according to ManpowerGroup's, 2012 Talent Shortage Survey.

So can the US grow its way back to prosperity through vocational schools and on-the-job training? It would be a good start, say economists.

Politicians and education officials often emphasize the importance of a university education, and for good reason. A university degree increases a worker's earning power over a lifetime. 

But particularly when the economic picture is dim, what an employee can get here and now becomes a more urgent concern, and the Talent Shortage Survey suggests that the economy needs people who can fix things with their hands as much as it needs high-end talent.  

"The benefit of vocational education is in helping people reinvent and reinvest themselves,” says Nicholas Sly, an economist at the University of Oregon

In its seventh annual talent-shortage survey, ManpowerGroup found that 49 percent of 1,300 US companies surveyed are having difficulty filling positions, down from 52 percent in 2011. That number is the fifth-highest among the 41 nations surveyed. The worldwide figure is 34 percent. 

Of the top 10 hardest-to-fill positions in the US, only three – engineers, nurses, and teachers – require university degrees. The other seven are: skilled trades, IT staff, sales representatives, accounting and finance staff, drivers, mechanics, and machinists.

The reasons employers cannot fill these positions are lack of experience, candidates asking for more money than they can afford to pay, and lack of talent and training. 

“This skills mismatch has major ramifications on employment and business success in the US and around the globe,” said Jonas Prising, ManpowerGroup president for the Americas. “Wise corporate leaders are doing something about it, and we increasingly see that they’re developing workforce strategies and partnerships with local educational institutions to train their next generation of workers.”

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