A high school graduate, Anthony Oliveri earned $30 an hour building cars at NUMMI’s Fremont, California plant, until he was laid off in 2010 along with 4,700 other unionized auto workers. He now earns $12.80 an hour as a security guard patrolling high-tech campuses. It’s a different story for Greg Bostick, who studied machine technology at Oakland’s Laney College after the layoff and found work as a quality inspector.
More than a third of the Bay Area’s manufacturing jobs have vanished in the last 20 years. New manufacturing jobs require technical training and skills that old-style factory workers didn’t need, reports the San Jose Mercury News.
“When my father was around, working in manufacturing, he had a sixth-grade education,” says Jose Anaya, the initiative director of the Centers for Applied Competitive Technologies, based at El Camino College in Hawthorne. “He got a job and that’s because they valued hard work and they valued brute strength. Now that isn’t so much needed. They’re looking for a higher set of skills.”
Modern Bay Area manufacturers are small operations producing electronic and medical devices. Workers need “computer skills, problem-solving savvy, the ability to talk to designers and customers and to understand their concepts, and a willingness to retrain in order to make next big thing.”
“Twenty or 30 years ago you could have a high school degree and you could expect to get a job in a pretty stable industry and maybe have a one-earner family,” says Doug Henton, CEO of Collaborative Economics in San Mateo. Now, “it’s a more challenging time. You might need a couple of years beyond high school and even then you might need two incomes to support a family.”
The Manufacturers Institute estimates 600,000 jobs in advanced manufacturing are unfilled. The Boston Consulting Group estimates 100,000, but predicts the gap will grow. The average age of skilled manufacturing workers — machinists, welders, mechanics — is 56.
Tesla bought the NUMMI plant to make electric cars, but it’s hired only a few hundred laid-off NUMMI workers. Tesla’s highly automated factory needs fewer, more highly skilled workers.
After completing Laney’s two-year machine technology program, Bostick found a job at a machine shop through a Laney instructor. He now works there part-time and works full-time at a second job, where he uses computer programs and sophisticated tools to inspect parts. With extra work hours, he makes almost as much as he did at NUMMI, where he earned $29 an hour plus overtime. ”There are really no blue-collar jobs in California that you can make that kind of money and have no skills,” Bostick says. “I don’t know of any.”
Weak math skills disqualify would-be workers, manufacturers say.
High school graduates applying for jobs at Tacoma’s General Plastics Manufacturing have to take a math test. The company makes foam products for the aerospace industry.
Eighteen questions, 30 minutes, and using a calculator is OK.
They are asked how to convert inches to feet, read a tape measure and find the density of a block of foam (mass divided by volume).
One in 10 pass the math test. And it’s not just a problem at General Plastics.
“Manufacturers are willing to train people about the specifics of their machines and technology,” said Linda Nguyen, CEO of Work Force Central, a partnership of government, business, education and community organizations that trains workers in Tacoma and surrounding Pierce County. “But they can’t afford to hire someone who needs to relearn basic math.”
Math teachers know their students will need math knowledge in the real word, writes Darren, a high school math teacher, on Right on the Left Coast. But he’s turned off by the story’s “drooling over Common Core Standards. Many teachers ”doubt . . . the so-called cure.”
Having students write about math isn’t a real cure. Group work isn’t a cure. Collaboration requires everyone have some background knowledge on which to draw so everyone can contribute. I wouldn’t mind cutting a few topics out so we had more time to cover the remaining topics more deeply, but to insist on so-called discovery learning is an exceedingly inefficient use of instructional time.
Instead of trying to make math “fun” or “applicable”, perhaps we could consider instilling in students, or insisting on, some perseverance and a sense of responsibility, and maybe even some delayed gratification.
Employers would value those traits too, Darren believes.
Many students who slid through high school without really learning math enroll at community colleges with hopes of training for a job or eventually earning a bachelor’s degree. Placement in remedial math is the single biggest dream killer.
Manufacturers are expanding — if they can find skilled workers, reports Minnesota Public Radio.
BRAINERD, Minn. — Pequot Tool and Manufacturing, whose 135 workers fabricate metal and plastic parts for aviation, agriculture, medical and other industries, is poised for growth in Pequot Lakes, about 25 miles north of here.
But the company is turning away customers, chief executive officer Karlo Goerges says. Goerges can’t find workers with the right skills, he said.
The U.S. Labor Department has given $500 million in grants to technical colleges and universities to expand training programs in manufacturing. Community and technical colleges in central Minnesota will use $13 million to train workers in high-tech manufacturing skills.
Companies say high-tech and even entry level jobs are tough to fill. What used to be, say, simply a welding job, now demands computer skills, robotics, adaptability, flexibility and more.
“If I had a skilled person walk in today, we’d probably hire them on the spot,” Goerges said. “Right now we’re turning away work that we can’t do, because we don’t have the people to do it. And if we don’t have people, we can’t expand.”
Manufacturing jobs in Minnesota pay an average of $56,000 a year and each job creates nearly two jobs in supporting industries, economists estimate.
John Newhouse, who runs a custom mold-making company, said applicants for entry level jobs often lack basic mechanical skills that used to be taught in high school. ”A factory job is no longer a factory job,” Newhouse said. “A factory job is now a value-added asset to a company.”
Marlene Mixa, director of strategic grants initiatives at Central Lakes College in Brainerd, is leading the job training effort, which will teach reading, math and computer skills, plus communications skills and working in teams. ”You need someone who can be flexible, who has that understanding of the whole process, who has critical thinking skills, problem solving skills,” Mixa said.
Central Lakes and technical colleges in St. Cloud and Pine City will use the federal grant to develop new degree programs in automation, plastics, and reverse engineering and rapid prototyping.
Retraining adults for high-demand jobs and improving graduation rates are the priorities for Iowa community colleges, reports the Gazette. Half the students who enrolled in 2009-10 earned a credential or transferred within three years. Colleges are trying to improve that number.
Des Moines Area Community College is among the schools that now requires an orientation course for all students, said Jeremy Varner, administrator of the community colleges division with the Iowa Department of Education. Other colleges are putting resources into more advising and early-warning programs for when students begin to struggle, he said.
“Getting more through to graduation — that’s where a lot of that focus is,” Varner said.
Kirkwood Community College hopes its math “emporium” will improve retention, ’said Math and Science Dean Lori Woeste.
Students work in a computer lab where an instructor is always on hand for one-on-one discussion, and the students work at their own pace. . . . students signs up for the Prep for College Math course, where they demonstrate competency in the “modules” they are confident about and then focus their time on the areas where they need work, Woeste said.
College officials hope state funding will improve next year, easing the tuition burden on students and funding job training. Iowa is focusing on training workers for jobs in nursing, information technology and advanced manufacturing.
The auto industry needs workers with more advanced skills, said Kristin Dziczek of the Center for Automotive Research at the the American Association of Community Colleges’ annual Workforce Development Institute.
Auto manufacturing jobs fell by 54 percent at the depths of the recession and are now rebounding, but the new jobs require new skill sets, Dziczek said. Community colleges will need to retool automotive job training.
As baby boomers retire, auto makers will be looking for new hires with the “cross skills” to do a variety of jobs.
There is a growing role for tech support in auto repair, and mechanics need more “soft skills”—like problem-solving and customer relations skills—as well as the ability to understand data storage and analysis, Dziczek said.
Community colleges should specialize in training workers for certain industries and “cultivate your brand” as “the place they’ll go to for skilled workers,” Dziczek said.
High schools should put “our kids on a path to a good job,” said President Obama in the State of the Union speech.
Right now, countries like Germany focus on graduating their high school students with the equivalent of a technical degree from one of our community colleges, so that they’re ready for a job. At schools like P-Tech in Brooklyn, a collaboration between New York Public Schools, the City University of New York, and IBM, students will graduate with a high school diploma and an associate degree in computers or engineering.
. . . Tonight, I’m announcing a new challenge to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy. We’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math – the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill jobs right now and in the future.
Many high schools offer “dual enrollment” courses that let students earn college credits — usually through a local community college — while completing high school. Moving to a German-style apprenticeship system, which explicitly prepares students for skilled jobs, not for higher education, will take a lot more than money. It will take a major attitude change from college for all to competency for all. (Competency for most?) President Obama, whose administration cut funds for career tech programs, could lead the way.
Despite high unemployment, some 600,000 jobs in advanced manufacturing and other high-tech fields are unfilled for lack of qualified workers, testified Jay Timmons, CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.
Chicago is trying to fill the skills gap.
Five high schools in the Chicago Public Schools district, including Corliss High School, Chicago Vocational Career Academy, and Lake View High School, began offering career-training tracks in September. The vocational programs are aligned with the needs of area businesses such as IBM, Motorola, and Verizon, which each partnered with a school to design alternative curricula, according to the CPS Website.
. . . Students enrolled in the program can earn a technical certification and credit toward an associate degree from City Colleges of Chicago, along with a high school diploma.
Two-year technical pathways can lead to lucrative careers, notes U.S. News. “Electrical engineering technicians earn a median salary of about $56,000 with an associate degree, and the median pay for nuclear technicians is roughly $68,000 with an associate’s, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.” Radiology technicians also earn high salaries with a two-year degree.
Massachusetts’ 15 community colleges are working with industry on workforce development with the help of a $20 million federal grant, reports Worcester Business Journal.
The Massachusetts Community Colleges and Workforce Development Transformation Agenda (MCCWDTA) is redesigning degree and certificate programs in six high-demand industries: health care, biotechnology and life sciences, advanced manufacturing, clean energy and sustainability, information technology and financial services.
Students will brush up on academic skills while training for jobs, said Assistant Secretary of Labor Jane Oates in a speech at Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester. “They cannot sit in a classroom for two semesters because they need to brush up on fractions and decimals,” Oates said.
College and career navigators will help students enroll in courses and use the One‐Stop Career Center on each campus under the new initiative. Industry representatives, college administrators and faculty will design job training programs together.
China has quadrupled the number of community college and university graduates in the last decade, but many are unemployed or underemployed because they refuse to take low-status factory jobs, reports the New York Times. In the U.S., employment rises with education. In Chinese cities, young college graduates are four times as likely to be unemployed as those with an elementary education, according to a survey by a Chinese university.
In Guangzhou, “factories make everything from T-shirts and shoes to auto parts, tablet computers and solar panels,” reports the Times. Wages, benefits and living conditions have improved dramatically, but many factories are “desperate for workers.”
Wang Zengsong is desperate for a steady job. He has been unemployed for most of the three years since he graduated from a community college here after growing up on a rice farm. Mr. Wang, 25, has worked only several months at a time in low-paying jobs, once as a shopping mall guard, another time as a restaurant waiter and most recently as an office building security guard.
But he will not consider applying for a full-time factory job because Mr. Wang, as a college graduate, thinks that is beneath him. Instead, he searches every day for an office job, which would initially pay as little as a third of factory wages.
The one-child policy means many young graduates can count on the support of their two parents and four grandparents.
As in the U.S., factories in China are having trouble finding workers who can operate and maintain complex equipment. Yet vocational students are outnumberedctwo to one by students in academic classes.
There are 3 million open jobs in U.S. because workers lack skills, reports 60 Minutes.
With a solid basic education, people could learn vocational skills, writes Marc Tucker in Ed Week. Instead, people are leaving high school and college without the ability to ” read complex material, write clear expository prose, analyze problems and solve them” and use high school-level math.
A Nevada company called Click Bond needs workers who can program computer-controlled machines, fix them and ensure fasteners are made to precise specifications.
They are having a very hard time finding people who “read, write, do math, problem solve,” says Ryan Costella. “I can’t tell you how many people even coming out of higher ed with degrees who can’t put a sentence together without a major grammatical error…If you can’t do the resume properly to get the job, you can’t come work for us. We’re in the business of making fasters that hold systems together that protect people in the air when they’re flying. We’re in the business of perfection.”
. . . Click Bond, desperate for help, banded together with other employers to set up a program at the local community college. They took unemployed people—and Nevada has a very large supply of such people—tested them for aptitude, interviewed them for attitude, and then trained them for the work that was available. The students were taught to operate the computers, read blueprints, learn trigonometry to make precise measurements—all in sixteen weeks.
But it cost $60,000 to train 20 workers.
Education requirements are climbing, say many employers. In the future, an administrative assistant probably will need an associate degree.
Is there a skills gap? Or a bunch of cheapskate employers offering low wages for high-level skills? Skills Don’t Pay the Bills writes Adam Davidson in the New York Times Magazine.
Earlier this month, hoping to understand the future of the moribund manufacturing job market, I visited the engineering technology program at Queensborough Community College in New York City. . . . 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.
Computer-controlled machines have replaced low-skilled factory workers, writes Davidson. Manufacturers need “people who know how to run the computer that runs the machine.”
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.
Goldenberg’s students will find jobs, the instructor says. Nationwide, manufacturers say there are 600,000 jobs available for skilled workers. Both President Obama and challenger Mitt Romney talked about the skills gap during the campaign.
But if employers really were desperate, they’d raise wages, argues Davidson. In most places, that hasn’t happened.
Eric Isbister, the C.E.O. of GenMet, a metal-fabricating manufacturer outside Milwaukee, told me that he would hire as many skilled workers as show up at his door. Last year, he received 1,051 applications and found only 25 people who were qualified. He hired all of them, but soon had to fire 15. Part of Isbister’s pickiness, he says, comes from an avoidance of workers with experience in a “union-type job.” Isbister, after all, doesn’t abide by strict work rules and $30-an-hour salaries. At GenMet, the starting pay is $10 an hour. Those with an associate degree can make $15, which can rise to $18 an hour after several years of good performance.
When manufacturers raise pay, they can find enoughskilled workers — except in a few cities where the oil industry is booming, according to a Boston Consulting Group city. “Trying to hire high-skilled workers at rock-bottom rates is not a skills gap,” the study concludes.