A Staggering Shortage of ‘Last-Mile’ Workers

Firms trying to expand complexes or factories are running into the same issue: not enough workers to complete the final stages.


Kelsey Flewellen

Senior Director, Client Solutions

In 2021, the semiconductor company began building a massive, multibillion-dollar factory, with the goal of producing microchips by 2024. The factory would be one of the biggest examples of the strong push by US companies to manufacture more critical goods within American borders.

But now, despite the construction nearing completion and a white-hot market for semiconductors, the company has announced it’s delaying production until 2025. The reason: it can’t find enough skilled workers to handle the last, critical stage—installing the facility’s advanced equipment.

Call it a shortage of so-called “last-mile” workers. A slew of firms, from vehicle makers to battery producers to the manufacturers of HVAC, find themselves in the same maddening position—needing to slow or delay production due to a shortage of the workers who make factories and buildings ready for use. “If you need a couple of hundred electricians or machinists to finish building a factory, you’re going to have a really hard time finding them,” says Paul Fogel, a Korn Ferry sector leader specializing in software roles. 

Experts say the problem could seriously stymie the schedules of organizations big and small, and a look at the staggering stats on the shortages shows why. According to a 2022 survey by the Associated General Contractors of America, the vast majority (91%) of construction firms with open positions have had difficulty filling roles for both craft and salaried positions. Two-thirds of those firms reported project delays due to labor shortages. And there’s no reprieve in sight, at least in the short term. The application rate for technical jobs like plumber and electrician dropped by 49% between 2020 and 2022.

There have been worries about a shortage of workers skilled in machines, plumbing, and other trades for the better part of a decade. But the issue has become more acute since 2020, as manufacturers have been encouraged to build more facilities in the US. The government has made at least $80 billion available to companies to advance national goals, such as strengthening domestic supply chains of critical parts and mitigating the impacts of climate change. But additional manufacturing requires additional factories, which only exacerbates the need for skilled tradespeople. Even though unemployment is at historically low levels, more than 700,000 manufacturing-sector jobs are unfilled, according to US government statistics.

Experts say companies anticipating shortages could do a better job of highlighting the earning potential of these skilled jobs, along with the fact that the roles usually don’t require college degrees. “There are six-figure jobs for young carpenters,” says Juan Pablo González, sector leader for Korn Ferry’s Professional Services practice.

Organizations should be looking at existing employees as well. In the semiconductor industry, there are thousands of workers who are in “chip-adjacent” roles, early-career professionals with engineering backgrounds but zero chip exposure, says Kelsey Flewellen, a Korn Ferry senior director of client solutions. “These professionals are all ideal candidates for upskilling,” she says.


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