'Manufacturing is wealth creation'

March 14, 2012

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I've said it before, and I'll say it again … the very best part of my job is hearing from readers. It doesn't matter whether the reader shares my views or thinks I’m 'out to lunch.' What matters is that he or she feels strongly about the topic and takes the time to share his or her view. Each comment contributes to the ensuing conversation and provides further food for thought.

Responding to last week's "Stamping News Brief" e-newsletter, a reader from Oregon shared his views about technical training in the U.S. 

The newsletter featured comments provoked by the blog post "Adding technical training back into high schools," in which a commenter took businesses to task for discontinuing apprenticeship programs and now looking to educational systems to ramp up training on the taxpayers' dime.

We asked SNB subscribers if these comments had merit. Are manufacturers partly to blame for the skilled labor shortage because of discontinued apprenticeship programs, and are companies returning to in-house training?

Jim from Oregon had plenty to say on this topic: "As I see it, we are using all the wrong arguments to get our point across to the education and political communities. We argue for jobs. But where are they going to come from? How do we create jobs? What kind of training is needed for the next generation? Who's going to pay for this training? Round and round the arguments go. 

"The cold hard truth is that over the past 50 years, we have gone from a 'wealth-creation' society to one that consumes wealth. Fifty years ago we were the world's largest creditor nation; today, we are the biggest debtor society. Fifty years ago, we had the strongest manufacturing base in the world. Today, manufacturing is struggling in this country. Do you see a correlation here? 

"Manufacturing is the mightiest wealth-creation engine ever devised by man. Countries that listened to the sweet nothings whispered by the so called educated or moneyed class about not needing to create wealth are now second- and third-rate powers in the world today. Go study what happened to Holland when they abandoned their textile industries 300 years ago. Or Spain, which had a thriving industrial base that was destroyed when that country’s money factors decided that the new world (South American) gold and silver would meet all their needs. England, France, Italy, and others were strong and prosperous until they abandoned wealth creation and started sucking up to the money factors and government. Each one is struggling to survive its own crisis today.

"Let’s talk about College education. It is no secret today that you unlikely will not be able to make a decent living in the competitive free market unless your degree is a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). Oh, you can get a job living off taxpayer money if you go to work for the government, but you are not a wealth creator. These degrees depend on the wealth creators for their sustenance. By the way, over half of our 'uneducated' staff make a hell of a lot better income than most with bachelor of arts degrees. They get paid this kind of money because they apply their skills to create wealth!

"So figure it out. Strong wealth creation (manufacturing) = a strong and prosperous nation. We need to stop listening to all the insipid lies coming out of state and national governments and Wall Street. They cannot create wealth but can surely burn a big hole through it. May I remind you of the past 50 years here? Just look at our current government deficits for a clear picture of irresponsibility and stupidity at the highest levels. And don’t forget that Wall Street almost sunk our country by trying to create false wealth in the housing markets with CDOs and other assorted financial instruments that had zero true value.

"Oh, and let's not forget China in this discussion. Fifty years ago, China was a dirt-poor, third-world nation that couldn't even feed itself. Today they are a very wealthy nation with a strong and growing middle class. How did they do it? They decided to become a wealth-creation nation through manufacturing, period! Nothing fancy here, folks. They decided to make things to sell to the rest of the world, and look at the result today. They basically own us because they are financing our gigantic national debt.

"Ok, so here is the argument that we need to make: Manufacturing is wealth creation. Wealth creation supports every other segment of society. We can talk around the problems until we are blue in the face and not solve anything until we win this argument. We need to preach this to every person in our circle of influence. Call b******t on the idiots that use high sounding arguments to try and tell us something different. We need to tell our kids that 'old-fashioned' wealth creation (manufacturing) is an honorable 'profession.'’ And you can make a lot better living (in manufacturing) than with what passes for a bachelor of arts degree these days.

“Another thing, knock off calling  modern manufacturing a 'trade.' Today's modern manufacturing requires intelligence and skills far above those needed 50 years ago. I know. I have been doing this 'trade' since 1965. The caliber of people that we need today comes out of the top 20 percent of graduating high school seniors. How the hell do you expect to attract these young people into this profession if we insist on using low-class terminology like trade, vo-tech, blue collar, apprentice, and so on? Our whole society thinks that we are stupid morons because we gave them the language to classify us that way. Schools want to shove their bottom 20 percent at us because of their perception of what we do. Folks, we have shot ourselves in both feet on this by treating our own profession as not worthy of standing with the so-called educated professions.

"Instead of apprenticeships, how about we develop a four- or five-year training program that grants a bachelor of science in Manufacturing Technologies with minors in tool making, or mold making, or machining sciences. This degree would be a technology degree in the STEM family. This program would tie rigorous academic studies to real-world experience in the manufacturing world. Those that made it through this program would be equal to any BS degree in terms of useful knowledge that can be used immediately in the modern manufacturing plant. And yes, graduates would be able to start at $35,000 to $40,000 a year instead of the usual $8 to $10 dollars an hour.

"Oh, and we need to tell the so-called educators to take a hike on this one. We can do this without their 'expertise.' The people already teaching these skills in community colleges and those with true STEM degrees would be welcome to help. The rest can sit on the sidelines and just watch. There would be no room for 'well-rounding' the educational experience in this program. The universities could have the useless fluff courses that fill out the worthless B.A. degrees that they grant.

"It is time for us to start educating the American public about true wealth creation! Not the insipid magical thinking coming out of our government and Wall Street.  Forget politics, political parties, and investment bankers on Wall Street. They don’t know squat about true wealth creation. We do because that is what we do every day! It is time for us to stand up to these phony people and get this country back on track again."

Jim, kudos to you for your passion, eloquence, and—I believe—some very good ideas. I doubt very many, if any, of your peers in the metal fabricating industry would argue with you—even those of us who have bachelor of arts degrees (although I do see the value of communication courses, regardless of the major). The challenge is convincing the rest of the world. Getting the word out there is part of the process.

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