What the Washington Post Cited: “Severe Shortage of Skilled Factory Workers As Government Encourages Students to Pursue White Collar Jobs”

by Hans Bader on April 24, 2012 · 12 comments

in Economy, Employment, Politics as Usual, Zeitgeist

The Washington Post cited my blog post, “Severe Shortage of Skilled Factory Workers As Government Encourages Students to Pursue White-Collar Jobs,” in a thoughtful commentary by Jennifer Rubin. But it linked to the entire collection of my blog posts by mistake. The Washington Post was attempting to link to this item.

Here is an excerpt from it:

The government has encouraged people who once would have become skilled and valuable factory workers to instead go to college and work in white-collar jobs, contributing to a severe shortage of the skilled workers needed by manufacturers. The Washington Post reports today on this problem:

Unemployment hovers above 9 percent. . . . It is a platitude that this industrial hub, like the country itself, needs more manufacturing work.  But as the 2012 presidential candidates roam      the state offering ways to “bring the jobs back,” many manufacturers say that, in fact, the jobs are already here. What’s missing are the skilled workers needed to fill them. A metal-parts factory here has been searching since the fall for a machinist, an assembly team leader and a die-setter. Another plant is offering referral bonuses for a welder. And a company that makes molds for automakers has been trying for seven months to fill four spots on the second shift. “Our guys have been working 60 to 70 hours a week, and they’re dead. They’re gone,” said Corey Carolla, vice president of operations at Mach Mold, a 40-man shop in Benton Harbor, Mich. “We need more people. The trouble is finding them.”

 In recent years, government officials have depicted white-collar jobs for college graduates as the way to go.  President Obama has advocated sending every high-school graduate to college or some form of higher education, while denigrating training for blue-collar industrial jobs.  He has sought to increase spending on colleges, while slashing spending on more useful vocational education that could lead to work in manufacturing.  [See this July 10 New York Times story]. . . As The Washington Post notes, as senior skilled factory workers are retiring, no one is taking their place, since “many of the younger workers who might have taken their place have avoided the manufacturing sector because of the . . . stigma of factory work.” . . .

Meanwhile, 12.8 million people are unemployed, many of them people with economically-useless college degrees . . . Growing government subsidies have encouraged colleges to raise tuition at a rapid rate, and to dumb down their courses to attract marginal students . . . Federal financial aid programs have helped cause skyrocketing tuition increases. Meanwhile, college students learn less and less with each passing year. “Thirty-six percent” of college students learned little in four years of college, and students now spend “50% less time studying compared with students a few decades ago, the research shows.”

Micha Elyi April 25, 2012 at 2:23 am

Likely, those dead-and-gone machinists, die-setters and welders didn’t fall into those positions right out of high school. But today’s employers only want already-skilled workers, no learning on the job and working ones way up. No employer loyalty to their employees anymore either.

Ed Cates April 25, 2012 at 2:34 am

As skilled workers, machinists, tool and die makers, moldmakers, etc, retired their skills and experience went with them and were not passed onto following generations of younger workers. Companies quit training through in house apprenticeship programs to avoid the time and investment to train younger workers. Also, hands on vocational programs have been eliminated from high schools where most older tradesmen first became interested in the trades as a career. It will take a long time to rebuild the basis for manufacturing.

Cameron April 25, 2012 at 2:50 am

I dislike the POTUS as much as the next guy, but there are a few things which must be pointed out here.

1. The manufacturers interviewed fail to mention their non-participation in apprenticeship programs, instead pretending they don’t know why they get poor choice of new workers. They expect talent to fall, fully groomed, into their laps, and refuse to spend a dime on workforce development. Manufacturers have recently responded to increased market dynamism by poaching top employees from competitors, but we now see where that road leads. With factory work becoming ever more knowledge intensive and specialized, the companies getting ahead are the ones large enough to develop human capital and the will to do so.

2. Most current paths to skilled factory work involve at least some time in community colleges, so I doubt the Pres means to say that the president wants us all to be factory drones.

Although come to think of it, we would emit a lot less Carbon that way.

PacRim Jim April 25, 2012 at 4:28 am

Don’t worry, China has lots of workers.
Americans can go on welfare.

Lone Ranger April 25, 2012 at 6:41 am

Within the industrial part of the eastern US, maybe one big factor is that young people do not wish to become slaves of the labor unions – which are basically just another form of organized crime.

karenmango@comcast.net April 25, 2012 at 6:43 am

Why don’t they train non-violent offenders who are near release dates? They used to train them to be auto mechanics. My mechanic (Ford dealership) was trained in prison. He was making good money.

Brian April 25, 2012 at 8:08 am

we have a logging/construction company in Alaska and we cannot find the kind of workers we need to grow. We have virtually no employees between the ages of 20 and 40 already and probably 80% of our guys are over 55. The young people we do tend to get tend to be highly dysfunctional because as your article notes, the top guys we would normally have attracted have all gone to college and are taken out of the workforce, whether they complete college or not

Thomas April 25, 2012 at 11:44 am

Alrighty Brian.
I’ll take you up on your offer.
I am 49, a Veteran, and, with 15 years as both a Mechainc and dipatcher.
I’ll relocate too.


BackwardsBoy April 25, 2012 at 8:14 am

The “stigma of factory work” was created by the radical far-left environmental movement whose opposition to progress drove them to denigrate any form of work that involved pollution. They childishly embraced a green, socialist utopia where no one ever got dirty and the planet was “saved” from the “ravages” of mankind.

This became official Washington policy during the Clinton years when NAFTA was signed, essentially gutting the formerly robust manufacturing sector of our economy. Subsequent legislation such as GATT has further eroded our manufacturing to the point that unless these policies and laws are done away with, we will never again be able to produce our own products.

Manufacturing once provided a wealth of diversity in the workplace for those who were smart enough for college, but preferred to work with their hands. Many without a degree were able to provide for their families and send their children to college (as I did). There were jobs for machinists, painters, truck drivers and welders and many others. We are literally poorer as a nation for having abandoned manufacturing for no good reason.

As we see the avoidable problems inherent in a global economy, we would be wise to reconsider onshoring, and begin by making a national commitment to rebuilding our manfacturing capacity as soon as possible. This would involve the re-establishment of technical schools to teach manufacturing skills and the elimination of any type of stigma associated with honest, hard work that directly benefits others and creates wealth.

Alan April 25, 2012 at 9:24 am

It’s not just “stigma of factory work” that causes young people to “avoid… the manufacturing sector”, but also the many, many news and blog articles that have been proclaiming the end of manufacturing in the U.S. for the past few years. Using hyperbole to make their points, these authors fail to provide objective guidance for the many who need to make career decisions. Wasteful!

Zain April 25, 2012 at 9:59 am

It is Moscow on the Potomac time. Moscow told you what to do. Washington will give you money fi you do what you are told. Different methods same result. Centralized control.

Your Grannie April 25, 2012 at 1:23 pm

My dad was a tool designer and tool and die maker, and supported my mum and all of us kids with steady work, except when the unionizers interfered with production.

When I was at highschool in the 70′s, the public education system was pushing kids into the more “elite” streams to enter university. Those students who took “shop” were mocked as dullards and greasers. Today, nobody wants to go into the trades, because they’d rather “follow their dream” and be actors and poets and musicians. So many of them are serving tables to pay for that illusion.

It took me 25 years to pay off my university “Arts” education while working in “the Arts” and moonlighting at McDonalds. On the other hand, my husband, who is a millwright, had a paid apprenticeship in the trade in his senior year, and has earned good and steady pay every week since then. Go figure. I sure wish I’d learned to work heavy equipment when I had the opportunity.

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