BRIDGING THE GAP

U.S. employment fell to 5.1% last month – a 7 year low which the government says is consistent with a healthy economy. The number of jobs added however, was only 173,000, the lowest number since December of last year. The manufacturing sector actually decreased by 17,000. At the same time, according to the government, we have had an average addition of 200,000 jobs a month over the past year. So, what’s the problem?

The answer is pretty basic. There is a mis-match between the candidates and the openings. Supposedly 500,000 of the positions added last year were in the technology field. As manufacturing firms and distribution centers have become much more sophisticated and turned to robotics and other automated processes, it has become more difficult to find qualified employees. They have displaced workers through automation and now cannot find enough workers who are qualified to deal with the new systems. Although many of the unemployed are anxious to work, they simply are not qualified for the new positions they are being asked to fill. The government recently announced $100 million in grants for training programs in certain cities. While this is a positive step, the taxpayers are footing the bill for services they have already paid for through their support of their local school systems. Considering the state of the country’s educational system, these grants will be very helpful; but I believe the federal government is trying to assume a responsibility that should lie with our school systems. What many cities need, but lack are sound technical education programs in the high schools that are focused on the industries that are predominant in their communities. Several firms have moved into cities where they thought there was a satisfactory total labor pool, but found that the available workers were not qualified for the jobs they needed to fill.

Fifty years ago, the educational system recognized the importance of technical or trade high schools, and almost every city of over 300,000 population had at least one. They were well attended by those who leaned toward the blue collar occupations, or wanted a technical background to supplement their college educations. ( I have a wealthy friend who was in a tech high school studying printing while I was in college.) While the curriculum of such a school today would be quite different than that of 50 years ago, what better place to learn about robotics and other automated processes? There are excellent technical schools in existence today, but most are operated for profit. What we need is technical education that would be funded by the various school systems and available to all regardless of their ability to pay. Education is not the job of the Chamber of Commerce or economic development boards. Education that is relevant to the communities in which we live whether technical or otherwise, should be the responsibility and goal of school systems everywhere.

Written By: Clifford F. Lynch