Caterpillar says has worker shortage despite job woes

CALGARY, Alberta Fri Sep 9, 2011 5:56pm EDT

Caterpillar construction machines sit parked at the Patten Cat dealership in Hammond, Indiana, in this October 20, 2006 file photo. REUTERS/Joshua Lott/Files

Caterpillar construction machines sit parked at the Patten Cat dealership in Hammond, Indiana, in this October 20, 2006 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Joshua Lott/Files

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Caterpillar Inc (CAT.N) is struggling to add skilled workers in its manufacturing operations despite high U.S. unemployment levels that have forced President Barack Obama to take extraordinary measures, the company's chief executive said on Friday.

The dichotomy in the makeup of the workforce is threatening U.S. and Canadian competitiveness, Caterpillar CEO Doug Oberhelman said.

"We cannot find qualified hourly production people, and for that matter many technical, engineering service technicians, and even welders, and it is hurting our manufacturing base in the United States," he told a business audience at the Spruce Meadows equestrian facility outside Calgary.

"The education system in the United States basically has failed them and we have to retrain every person we hire."

Obama, seeking to rescue the U.S. economy, announced a $447 billion job creation plan on Thursday.

The White House sees the plan, a mix of payroll tax cuts and spending to upgrade roads, bridges and school buildings, as the best hope for reducing the 9.1 percent U.S. unemployment rate, which Obama called a "national crisis".

Oberhelman said the service technician shortage is hurting Caterpillar's dealers as well.

"These things have pretty sophisticated instruments and we have to train for that. I would hope our education system could help and make up for some of that," he said. "Today it's several thousands shortage of those technicians for us around the world. It's acute."

Oberhelman said it is too early to tell if the United States or Europe is heading for another recession.

"Certainly the storm clouds have thickened a bit," he said.

He was in Calgary for a business roundtable on manufacturing. Caterpillar is a major supplier of the heavy equipment used to mine the Alberta oil sands.

(Reporting by Jeffrey Jones; editing by Peter Galloway)

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