Widespread media reports may be missing some key points
By Tom Hoffman, CEO/President
Media reports seem to be saying that jobs are out there in the manufacturing sector, but our unemployed workforce lacks the STEM skills to fill them. From the New York Times and Wall Street Journal to Machine Design and Industry Week, articles and editorials seem to support the notion: our nation lacks robust STEM education, leaving many unemployed; and allowing job vacancies to climb as more American companies attempt to re-shore or expand manufacturing.
But, what is the truth? Late last year, a colleague brought the topic front and center by directing me to an article published in a very unlikely place: The COSTCO Connection, which boasts nearly 9 million monthly readers.
Speaking for the pro or yes side was James Bessen, a lecturer at Boston University’s School of Law. The con or no side was represented by Laurie Bassi, CEO of McBassi & Co., a human resources analytics firm.
Bessen, who lost the popular vote by more than 3 to 1, argued that “the average worker doesn’t have the specialized skills to deal with new technology…”. This, says Bessen, is the actual problem. His argument reviewed previous technology cycles in manufacturing where the same phenomena occurred. This leads to his conclusion that a “skills gap” is a cyclical event. The cycle is technology-driven because our educational institutions can’t keep up. Their educational programs lag the reality on the street. Only the companies who need these skilled employees have the resources to deploy the necessary training directly on the job.
On the con or winning side of this question, Laurie Bassi says the talent shortage isn’t real. The question is about wages. “Prospective employers, who are sitting on the sidelines complaining about shortages are those who are unwilling to pay what is required by the market.”
“Prospective employers, who are sitting on the sidelines complaining about shortages are those who are unwilling to pay what is required by the market.”
Bassi digs into the phenomena of “build vs. buy” as the reason. The off-shoring phenomenon, where Western manufacturers hire Asian firms to perform manufacturing, is the ultimate buy decision. Since this has been going on for decades, “the level of corporate investment in workplace education and training has been unsustainably low in the U.S.”, lectures Bassi.
Both the pro and con positions are well-stated by their respective authors, and I commend everyone to read the article. I am surprised by the voting, which basically shoots down the talent shortage argument. As an industrialist, I know firsthand that skilled employees are getting harder to find.