America’s supply of skilled workers is running low and growing old. Blogger Frances Brunelle, at Accelerated Buy Sell Blog gives an interesting perspective on why the trough is not being replenished. Her words echo those of Eric Hanushek, in his book “Endangering Prosperity: A Global View of the American School” and why dramatic changes need to be made to the American school system in order to salvage the country’s economic future.
Post by Frances Brunelle
Last week I attended the quarterly meeting of the New Jersey Tooling & Manufacturing Association. The new president of the association, Mr. Alan Haveson, asked the audience by a show of hands, how many were in need of skilled workers. Almost every hand in the room went up. As I looked around the room, I noticed that a majority of the business owners were sporting grey, salt & pepper or white hair. Mr. Haveson went on to talk about the responsibility to transfer knowledge to the next generation before it’s too late. That night I enjoyed catching up with some of my long time customers. They all talked about how hard it is to find good qualified machinists. For a few seconds I wondered how the industry got itself into this position. I answered my own question in my head because I’ve read enough books, authored enough articles and been entrenched in the industry long enough to know.
This didn’t happen over night. It was slow and steady. It happened one student at a time, being told that manufacturing was not a worthy profession. It happened in almost every high school across the country, as guidance counselors encouraged other types of careers.
We, as a society, allowed the image of US manufacturing to be tarnished.
We didn’t speak up. We didn’t allow our voices to be heard. We allowed our collective paradigm to shift away from the idea that making things here at home is a good and worthy profession. When did graduating college with a mountain of debt and a degree for something for which one can’t find a job become the norm?
The whole situation reminds me of the story of how DeBeers altered the way many nations looked at diamond engagement rings over the course of a generation. In 1967 only about 5% of Japanese women sported a diamond engagement ring. In 1981 the figure rose to about 60%. How did DeBeers accomplish this? The same way they did in every other country, through advertising. Through relentless advertising over multiple media, the rare became the norm and a new paradigm was created for the furtherance of the company’s bottom line.
Are you asking what diamonds have to do with a generation of US students rejecting manufacturing as a viable career? Was this rejection the paradigm of generations past? Of course not! It was slow and steady encouragement and “advertising,” by an industry that would make more money based on student’s choices. Before I inspire a bunch of hate mail, I am NOT saying that traditional four-year colleges are bad. What I’m saying is that we all must keep in mind that the secondary education system is a business that seeks its own perpetuation. Colleges are a business just like DeBeers that have a vested interest in an entire population viewing what they provide as an absolute must. I think that it’s smart to question the “norms” in society. Don’t think so? Where are the jobs today? How many folks do you know have their adult children living with them, because they can’t find employment after college? How fast would these kids find a job if they knew how to program a CNC machining center?
So how do we fix this? We didn’t get here over night, and this won’t be fixed overnight. But it can be a slow and steady storm. An army of people who work in manufacturing and supporting industries speaking, writing, advertising and advocating for the industry. It starts with people like Al Haveson challenging the membership of a State Manufacturing Association to do their part to pass the baton to the next generation. It starts with folks like Anthony LaMastra, former president of the same association, working hard to get a regional manufacturing training center in our state. It starts with apprenticeship programs around the country. It starts with people like Gene Haas making generous donations of machining centers to manufacturing educational programs throughout the country. It starts with other machine tool builders following Mr. Haas’s lead. It starts with people like you going to your son or daughters school to talk about how cool it is to MAKE things
So many MILLIONS of great minds within the manufacturing community will retire in the next 10-20 years. What can you do to give back after you retire? Will you be a volunteer, a mentor or a writer? How will you help champion the industry once you retire? What would result if this conversation happens at EVERY state manufacturing association? What if it happens at a national level?.
What happens if we go “DeBeers” on an entire generation of young people to champion US manufacturing?
We wouldn’t just save our industry; we’d save our economy and perhaps our nation. I will do my part….will you?