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Skills Don’t Pay the Bills -
Illustration by Peter Oumanski
Published: November 20, 2012

As the instructor Joseph Goldenberg explained, today’s skilled factory worker is really a hybrid of an old-school machinist and a computer programmer. Goldenberg’s intro class starts with the basics of how to use cutting tools to shape a raw piece of metal. Then the real work begins: students learn to write the computer code that tells a machine how to do it much faster....many believe that the manufacturing's future (and, to some extent, the future of the American economy) lies in training a new generation for highly skilled manufacturing jobs — the ones that require people who know how to run the computer that runs the machine.

This is partly because advanced manufacturing is really complicated. Running these machines requires a basic understanding of metallurgy, physics, chemistry, pneumatics, electrical wiring and computer code. It also requires a worker with the ability to figure out what’s going on when the machine isn’t working properly...yet, even as classes like Goldenberg’s are filled to capacity all over America, hundreds of thousands of U.S. factories are starving for skilled workers....The secret behind this skills gap is that it’s not a skills gap at all. I spoke to several other factory managers who also confessed that they had a hard time recruiting in-demand workers for $10-an-hour jobs....Yet according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of skilled jobs has fallen and so have their wages... “Trying to hire high-skilled workers at rock-bottom rates,” the BCG study asserted, “is not a skills gap.” The study’s conclusion, however, was scarier. Many skilled workers have simply chosen to apply their skills elsewhere rather than work for less, and few young people choose to invest in training for jobs that pay fast-food wages. As a result, the United States may soon have a hard time competing in the global economy....It’s easy to understand every perspective in this drama. Manufacturers, who face increasing competition from low-wage countries, feel they can’t afford to pay higher wages. Potential workers choose more promising career paths. “It’s individually rational,” says Howard Wial, an economist at the Brookings Institution who specializes in manufacturing employment. “But it’s not socially optimal.”...this isn’t a narrow problem facing the manufacturing industry. The so-called skills gap is really a gap in education, and that affects all of us.
highly_skilled  skilled_trades  skills  skills_training  manufacturers  BCG  education  low-wage_countries  talent_allocation  skills_gap  paradoxes  global_economy  young_people  skills_shortage 
november 2012 by jerryking
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