Friday, December 27, 2013

The Need For Skilled Labor

It is often assumed that domestic manufacturing, once the industrial backbone of America, is gone forever, a victim of cheap labor overseas, free trade agreements and ease of transportation. The reality is somewhat different. I listened to this piece from NPR this morning, Manufacturing 2.0: Old Industry Creating New High-Tech Jobs. It is about five minutes long, give it a listen....

What was especially interesting was a quote near the end of the piece that sounds like the same thing we hear from Mike Rowe, the former host of Dirty Jobs:

While many higher-tech firms are growing, other less-competitive firms are dying. And the government projects U.S. manufacturing jobs overall will decline a bit by 2020.

At the same time, though, a lot of manufacturing workers are older — and getting ready to retire. "There are millions of jobs that will open up in manufacturing as the current workforce retires," Bluestone says. Many of the manufacturers he's talked to "tell us their No. 1 issue is where will the skilled workers come from to replace those that are retiring today," he says.


We hear all of  concern about the affordability of college and how it is necessary for anyone to have a decent life and yet the sort of white collar office jobs that people seem to think will never go away are not nearly as a) available and b) lucrative as many people think. Unless you are getting a degree in some sort of specialty, like nursing/health care, computer science, accounting, engineering, etc., there are not that many jobs that require a college education. At the same time manufacturers are desperate for people with high tech blue collar skills. The recruiting webpages for my area are full of ads for people with manufacturing and production experience and education. A new high school graduate can get an associates degree in a technical field and get a good paying job by 20. Or that same high school grad can spend twice as long and ten times as much money to get a B.A. in Philosophy or Women's Studies or Underwater Basket Weaving and have no practical, tangible job skills.

That is not to say that it is never a good idea to get a 4 year degree, just that it is not a good idea for everyone. We need to get over our cultural disdain for work that requires physical labor. I believe we have sent an entire generation of kids to college only for those kids to find themselves living at home with few job prospects and a ton of debt. I would rather see my sons get 2 year degrees and get a job than spend their 20's living at home with an education that doesn't do much to educate them and next to nothing to prepare them for the workforce of the 21st century. America needs fewer cubicle dwellers who shuffle paper all day and more welders, CNC experts, etc. Parents of kids in or approaching high school should be having these conversations instead of just assuming that college is the only way to go.

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