A solution to the skilled-labor shortage?

March 19, 2008
By: Vicki Bell

Among my job responsibilities is compiling and sending out monthly e-newsletters—Fabricating Update, Stamping News Brief, Tube Talk, and Welding Wire. These newsletters deliver industry-specific information to subscribers. They also are what I like best about my job. Why? Because subscribers often share their thoughts about the topics in each newsletter's lead item and their thoughts are always interesting.

Yesterday's Tube Talk discussed an idea that's gaining momentum: tuition-free, post-secondary training.

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) recently released the results of a national survey that found widespread support among likely U.S. voters for two years of tuition-free, post-secondary education for every qualified American.

According to the survey, 97 percent of respondents agreed that it was very important or somewhat important to increase the level of training and skills development. Surprisingly, the combined figure was greater than the importance given to assuring affordable health care, keeping mortgage rates down, and increasing the minimum wage.

Commenting on the results, Vic Fingerhut of Fingerhut Granados Opinion Research, the organization that conducted the survey, said, "Persons of every income, education, and political affiliation would all support a national education policy that included two years of tuition-free education [at a community college, vocational or high-tech institute, or apprentice program] for qualified Americans. They rightly view this type of education policy as critical for the U.S. to compete successfully in today"s skills-based global marketplace."

If implemented, this initiative possibly could be an answer to the skilled-labor shortage. Right? Here's what some Tube Talk subscribers had to say about that:

Ken, who works for a company that provides structural steel tubing, wrote, "Tuition-free training is a great concept [that] seems to work in other countries. But it has to be tied to standards of performance, not just attendance.

"Perhaps just as important as an educated work force, is a work force willing to do physical labor. When we had a rural economy, we could look for kids off the farm who were accustomed to an honest day's labor. The next generation has typically wanted for nothing, and mowing the lawn or shoveling a sidewalk for an hour or two is the most onerous thing they"ve ever done. There is also a sense of entitlement or naiveté; we've had high school interns applying for file clerk positions, wondering which private office will be theirs!

"For positions such as a tube mill or slitter operator, efficiency can be directly related to an operator"s willingness to jump in, push, pull, lift, and get dirty, leaving at the end of the day dog-tired. Unfortunately, this requirement has us looking more and more to recent immigrants; our own kids just aren"t interested. We even tell them, 'You don"t want to work in a factory your whole life, do you?' We demean the working class, yet wonder what"s becoming of it."

Bill from Black & Decker wrote, "How does the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs factor into the survey? Skilled laborers, from engineers to machinists, are necessary parts of the manufacturing system. What good would it do to increase the amount of skilled labor available if they have to go to China, India, Vietnam, [and other foreign countries] to work?"

Joe from a global company that produces automotive parts wrote, "There is no such thing as tuition-free. The taxpayers are already supporting education enough. The high cost of education will never be solved by throwing more money at the tuition side. The institutions must become more efficient. They have never had the task of improving their quality as well as reducing their cost. Those of us in industry work with those constraints every day.

"Any person who wants to get a two-year community college [degree] or vocational training can get it now. If they are unwilling to try now, throwing more money at it won't help."

Then there's Mike, who works for a company that also produces automotive equipment. Responding to the newsletter, Mike shared his opinion about what can be done to combat the skilled labor shortage and any other problem plaguing the U.S. He wrote, "I would support [tuition-free training] for people who want to work, not for people who just want to milk our tax dollars and the government. As far as the economy and the skilled labor issue, here are my thoughts. This nation has long been overdue for God's judgment because of its sin, but God in His incredible mercy and grace is interested in seeing the hearts and lives of men saved and changed for His glory, but that can't happen if we keep kicking Him, The Ten Commandments, and His Word out of our lives and this nation! You want to see His blessings return to our economy and all areas of life as we know it? ANSWER: Bring God back!"

And there you have it & why I love my job. The Mikes, Joes, Bills, and Kens care enough about what's happening in our world to think about issues and share their thoughts. No apathy. They don't have to worry about being politically correct or afraid to speak out. They mount the soapbox and say what they really think. How refreshing is that in an election year?

If you're reading this blog post, remember that you too have a forum to state your opinion. You can comment on this and any other post by clicking Read comments and/or reply below, or if you don't want them posted but would like to share your thoughts, you can send them to vickib@thefabricator.com. If you'd like to subscribe to one of the complimentary e-newsletters, visit this page, click one of the e-newsletter names, and complete the form.

Vicki Bell

Vicki Bell

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8209