Mike Rowe, host of the Discovery Channel’s TV program Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe, testified before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee’s hearing on “Manufacturing Our Way to a Stronger Economy” on May 11, 2011. Rowe spoke in support of U.S. manufacturing jobs and the Association of Equipment Manufacturers’ (AEM) “I Make America” campaign.

The content of his testimony spoke to the lack of skilled labor in America. Rowe called upon the Senate to begin a large scale campaign to encourage skilled labor programs and strengthen domestic manufacturing jobs. As Rowe explained, “Right now, American manufacturing is struggling to fill 200,000 vacant positions. There are 450,000 openings in trades, transportation and utilities. The skills gap is real, and it’s getting wider. In Alabama, a third of all skilled tradesmen are over 55. They’re retiring fast, and no one is there to replace them.”

Being a skilled tradesman used to mean success. Now, it feels a lot like settling in our higher education- obsessed culture.

Its not just Alabama that will be facing a skilled labor drought. Rowe said, “A few months ago in Atlanta I ran into Tom Vilsack, our Secretary of Agriculture. Tom told me about a governor who was unable to move forward on the construction of a power plant. The reason was telling. It wasn’t a lack of funds. It wasn’t a lack of support. It was a lack of qualified welders.” Scenarios like this one seem to point towards a skilled labor shortage having an effect on the entire construction industry, commercial and non-commercial. Indeed the irony that the construction of a power plant would be a job creation opportunity that can’t be completed because of lack of workers, is not lost on Rowe.

Ultimately, this will not affect the real estate market as it stands today. There are not enough shovel-ready construction projects, in either the commercial or non-commercial sectors. But that could change swiftly in the near future. As smaller construction companies invariably go out of business due to lack of work, the ones that survive will be glutted with jobs when the market begins to recover.

What impact will this shortage of qualified workers have on the face of construction, skilled labor and the real estate market in America?