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Thursday, November 29, 2012


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"(T)he big problem, he said, is that so few pass the drug test -- an incessant complaint from Midwestern employers in all fields"

The logical response to this "big problem" would be to DROP THE DRUG TEST.

Davidson's point is not incompatible with yours. These employers can only afford skilled labor at low wages, and the only ways to solve that issue are A) relax American visa & immigration policies, B) move the factory overseas, or C) produce at a smaller scale than they would like. Let's not indulge the employers whining because they can't afford to pay skilled workers competitive wages.

I am very skeptical of the skills gap myself. But in some cases I can very much believe that there are fewer skilled people than employers might prefer at a given point. That's because acquiring skills requires a major investment of time and money. You only make that investment if you think you can obtain a return over time. It may indeed be that there's more demand than usual for high skill labor right now. But workers have seen this movie before. Coming out of recession, companies hire back up, but the downtrend in manufacturing jobs and wages soon resumes. The real question is, can you expect to have a viable long term career if you invest in skills relevant to advanced manufacturing? It's hard to make that argument compellingly, hence the logic of not investing to obtain the skills.

Aaron, I used to be skeptical of the skills gap, too, but after a while, when a whole lot of people tell me the same thing over and over, I begin to think there's something to it. So, yes, there is a skills gap -- a large number of manufacturing jobs going, in a down economy, but too few qualified and skilled workers to fill them. The reason is precisely what you say, and what my post tried to argue. For all but the truly exceptional worker, these jobs don't pay enough to justify the time and expense needed to acquire the skills. Tom Friedman says that, in the global economy, we all have to be above average. Maybe so, but most people feel that above-average performance merits above-average pay, which is more than $40k. We can argue that employers like Isbister should pay higher wages, but they argue that, given global competition, this isn't possible. Short of auditing their books, I'm not about to say they're wrong. The upshot -- the point of the post -- is that we are in a new and grimmer economy that, in the manufacturing sector at least, is not going to provide good jobs for any but a tiny number of Stakhonovite workers with superior skills. I don't see a realistic solution to this, but welcome any suggestions.

Of course the elephant in the room is that the knowledge sector is not immune to globalization either. Lower-paying options for computer servicing and programming as well as other high tech industries are already happening. So, the question is: work where? The answer: services, like toe-nail painting, or get used to the low-wage and junk product economy.

I would think that apprenticeships would be a possible solution to the problem. I know American companies have benn loathe to offer them because of the relatively high labor mobility that we have here, but this seems to have changed in recent yeras (labor is less mobile than in the past), so this would seem to be the time to approach this potential solution, no?

Its interesting to see how an employer doesn't see a low starting wage, a fairly low wage ceiling, and no job security as a detriment.

I think Globalization is more or else an equalizing force. Look back 60 years and you could see similar disparities between states in the USA as you do between countries now. But things are starting to even out, which isn't good news for the average person living in a richer country, because of all the surplus labor available.

One solution might be if there were a third party that could provide the training at no cost to the employer and only a minimal cost to the employee, such as a promise to pay that third party a small fee out of his or her wages. The employer could go through this thrid party to hire these skilled employees, and that third party could even take care of the drug testing. Of course that third party would want to make sure that the employees were being treated fairly and might even want to make sure that the employer was paying a sustainable wage/compensation package. Any chance there are any third parties like that out there?

Evidence is mounting that skills gaps exist and are getting worse in the economy today, and it's prudent for cities, states, businesses and more to invest in solutions. One of them is career and technical education (CTE), which has proven to produce a return in areas like improved student achievement, career prospects, more trained workers for the jobs of today and improved community vitality. If everyone with a stake in this works together, the resulting programs and their benefits will be that much more profound.

The Industry Workforce Needs Council is a new group of businesses working together to spotlight skills gaps and advocate for CTE as a means of bridging them. For stats and other information, or to join the effort, visit www.iwnc.org.

Jason Sprenger, for the IWNC

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