Jobs and Skills

Some manufacturing executives are complaining that they can’t find applicants with the right skills for the available jobs. According to John Engler, President of the National Association of Manufacturers, “A full 36 percent of our members have said they have employment positions unfilled right now because they cannot find qualified workers. This confirms what our members have been telling us: that the people applying for manufacturing jobs today simply do not have the math, science and technological aptitude they need to work in modern manufacturing.”

And what does this “math, science, and technological aptitude” actually involve? “I am not saying you have to know complex algebra to get a job on the plant floor,” Engler continues, “but you do need fundamental math, science and communication skills,” he said. “You can’t be illiterate and communicate with other members on a manufacturing team.” He worries about what will happen in the near future, as many older workers retire.

Phyllis Eisen, vice president of the Manufacturing Institute, says that parents and teachers are partly to blame for the shortage of skilled workers, in that they have promoted four-year college degrees as the key to success, even if those degrees are not well connected with current employment trends.

I also think that many people have a mistaken idea of a “factory” as a place inhabited entirely by human robots whose work repertoire is limited to the repetitive tightening of bolts. This has never been true, and it is even less true now that automation has changed the mix of knowledge workers and craft workers vs those doing unskilled and semiskilled jobs. I wonder how many members of the K-12 educational establishment have even the vagues idea of what goes on in a manufacturing plant and what this might imply for their students.

And is it unreasonable to ask that schools should be teaching “fundamental math, science and communication skills” to all of their students…even those who are not on a “college track?”

(hat tip: Cold Spring Shops)

10 thoughts on “Jobs and Skills”

  1. There is a shortage of skilled eighteen year old workers. There is not a shortage of skilled workers in their forties and fifties. Hire them why don’tcha?

  2. Fred,
    I can immediately think of one reason why they are not hired: health care. Our health care system is so bolloxed up, that no manufacturer, particularly a shop with less than 500 workers, wants to skew their already out of control health care contributions higher up the scale. Young workers tend to visit doctors less frequently than those over 40. For a small manufacturer, health care is the number 1 escalating cost besides energy, and they feel powerless to get it under control. It may not be fair to older workers, but that’s reality.

  3. Getting rid of the deduction for company health care would improve a lot of things, the ability of older workers to find jobs among them.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if my kids, after they finished school found college to be a losing proposition. People seem to think it is some kind of ticket to the middle and upper class, as if the “ruling class” set up college as the gateway to all the decent jobs for reasons of their own, whether it actually added value or not. With costs skyrocketing and the actual value added not skyrocketing, the day will come when the standard formula “go to college if you want a decent life” will be obsolete and new strategies will be called for.

    Maybe these new strategies will involve starting middle class families well before one’s mid-20’s, and push the birthrate back up. Of course, they’ll also have to involve using high school as something other than a stalling tactic and a holding area until their students are allolwed to begin learning something useful…

  4. Fred, my husband belongs to the Tooling and Mfg. Assoc, They dumped their HI, went to Bc/BS –$12K per family.

    He looked at HSAs, but he said it would have cost him more.

    Of course, the way we’ve been computing lately, we could be a little off.

  5. But what happened to all the manufacturing jobs we’ve shipped overseas? You mean to tell me, there are jobs available here that can’t be filled because kids can’t even fill out their applications properly? I’m shocked…shocked!

  6. A big culprit here is the Education establishment that went on a Jihad against vocational education in the 70’s.

    Vocational education was considered to be both classist and racist. It became considered a great crime that perhaps 1 in 10 kids in vocational education were improperly tracked when they could have been put on a 4-year college track instead. Therefor the other 9 kids who were perfectly happy in vocational education got herded into the college prep track. God help the education administrator who did not have ethnic ratios within vocational ed classes that exactly matched those of the general school population.

    High schools used to turn out people who were instantly employable. They had basic literacy and numeracy as well as technical skills that would let them step into good paying jobs. Now high schools view themselves as mere feeders for the colleges. If they turn out somebody that could get a $40,000 dollar a year job as a machinist but couldn’t complete a 4-year course in gender studies they have failed.

    This is yet another consequence of the elitist seizure of control of education that occurred in the 1960’s.

  7. A less thoughtful approach would be mine; I’ve long advocated carpet bombing the education departments of America.

  8. Well, industry and business can do what the military does, train people in skills they need. And before someone says, but they’ll leave once they get the skills, only if they are not contracted. For some reason these same businesses don’t want to obligate themselves to such contracts. Guess they don’t like carrying labor as an liability rather than an asset.
    Of course these are often the same businesses and industries that demand property tax relief to locate or continue operation in a specific locale. If they put half the lobbying effort into rationalizing their state education system, into real skill development, that they spend on tax benefits, they might actually achieve something that works for them.

Comments are closed.