Karl Smith and Scott Sumner both have reasonable responses to this weird Yahoo article about factory owners whining that they can't hire enough machinists but the weirdest thing is that one of the whiny factory owners has the answer:
For more than a year, [Dennis] Winslow has been looking for manual machinists, quality control inspectors and machinists trained to use computer-controlled systems.
He said he may be forced to hire people who are not fully skilled, and then train them.
On a firm level obviously one solution here is to just pay higher wages and hire away someone else's machinist. But there are still only so many machinists to go around. At some point the reasonable thing to do is to find a less-skilled worker who has less bargaining power and lower wages, hire him, and teach him to do the damn job. I was neither the first nor the last entry-level worker at the American Prospect who had some fundamental gaps in my skill set but who was still a worthwhile hire since I was working for cheap. On the job, I gained a lot of valuable skills and training. It worked out great.
Note that it would be an extraordinary achievement if the central planners in charge of American high schools were able to perfectly guess the exact nature of the skills that employers will want. It would be equally extraordinary if a bunch of 16-year-olds had the foresight and wisdom to track themselves into the exact right kind of vocational training. But if we pull together and focus we can create generations of high school graduates who know their reading, writing, and 'rithmetic and then employers with specialized needs can hire them and train them to do jobs.