Unemployment is the most pressing problem facing our nation.
So I was shocked to learn that manufacturers in Indiana, in New York, in California and in many other states can’t find the people they need to hire to ramp up production of their goods. While we have added nearly 500,000 manufacturing jobs over the last two years, a study published last year by Deloitte estimated that approximately 600,000 well-paying manufacturing jobs are going wanting in our country simply because of a lack of workers with the requisite skills to fill the positions. But I am happy to report, help is on the way.
Given the high average wages of jobs in the manufacturing sector ($29.75 an hour in 2010), lots of Americans are getting the training necessary to fill the 600,000 manufacturing openings in this country. A recent article in CNN chronicled the huge number of Americans flooding into trade schools and community colleges that offer certificate programs designed to train our next generation of manufacturing workers. Programs like those offered by Naugatuck Valley Community College’s new Advanced Manufacturing Technology Center. Naugatuck Valley offers a manufacturing certificate program.
CNN also did a nice piece on members of our extended American family who have joined the storied manufacturing sector. Students training for positions in the manufacturing sector run the gamut from our heroes returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, older workers transitioning from other industries and young pups just graduating from college.
I talked to three young guys on the bus yesterday about manufacturing jobs. It was clear that they had never considered preparing for a job in the manufacturing sector. But they got interested as we discussed the benefits of attending a community college for a couple of years and being fairly sure of getting a job as soon as they graduate. They got really interested when I told them that new manufacturing workers can expect a starting salary of around $40,000 a year, with the potential to jump to $55,000 to $65,000 in less than two years. But they were really floored when I told them that if they did well in their new endeavor, they could make more than $100,000 annually after ten years on the job.
Given the demand for workers and the decent money you can make, it is difficult to understand why more young people are not getting into manufacturing. But I have a couple of theories.
Theory 1: The endless drumbeat that every young person in America should go get a four-year degree from a university.
This idea is a relatively new concept, but it is now firmly established in the national psyche. However, it is a pipe dream, and an expensive pipe dream at that. There have always been, and will always be, a large number of jobs in this economy that don’t require a BA from a university. Rather than try to squeeze all young people into a “one-size fits all” university track, we should be helping young people train for careers that fit their goals and circumstances.
Theory 2: Americans who don’t get a BA never make any money. As set forth above, this is a canard. Americans who graduate from high school and then get some post secondary education in the form of a certificate relating to manufacturing jobs can do very well thank you in terms of making a living.
Theory 3: A BA is necessary in order to receive a well-rounded education. One of my favorite lines about higher education is from the bar scene in Goodwill Hunting. Matt Damon tells a stroppy Harvard grad student that someday he will come to understand that he “dropped a $150,000 on an education you could have got for $1.50 in late charges at the public library.” I couldn’t agree more. I took lit classes, psych classes and political science classes in college, and in most of the classes it was just me, the professor, and 150 other people. Not a lot of one-on-one guidance on the significance of the Iliad was offered. Later I read it on my own, with the aid of a guide to reading it I got at the library, and I got a lot more out of it than I ever did in Lit class. You simply don’t have to get a BA to understand and appreciate the finer things (Literature, music, philosophy, Monty Python, English Football) in life.
I hate to brag, but my home town of Seattle actually leads the nation in the creation of manufacturing jobs. From the big boy in town, Boeing, to a slew of great smaller manufacturers (Tom Bihn and McKinnon Furniture to name a few), Seattle is a town that makes things. And our community colleges are helping lots of people train for a career in the manufacturing sector. You can’t know how happy that makes me. Okay, maybe you can.