WASHINGTON – OEM Fabricators of Woodville, Wis., announced the other day that it is expanding its operations in the Badger State and adding 100 manufacturing jobs. Normally, such an announcement would be relegated to the back pages. These days, any U.S. manufacturer who announces expansion plans attracts media coverage.
The company’s new facility will house OEM Micro, a division that serves the medical, electronics and aerospace markets. The manufacturer already employs 500 workers and has annual sales of $75 million.
Now the question is how long it will take a metal bender like OEM Fabricators to find 100 qualified employees – metal workers able to operate numerical control machines that have made U.S. manufacturing more efficient while at the same time contributing to the elimination an estimated 6 million factory floor jobs since 2000.
The U.S. response to the wrenching changes in manufacturing over the last decade has so far been slow and largely ineffective. The reality is that technology advances mean many manufacturing jobs are gone for good. That means we must gain a clearer understanding of the impact of globalization while sorting through the competing claims about a “skills gap,” retraining and how technology is transforming advanced manufacturing.
Only then will we be able to again compete.
In the final analysis, our manufacturing problems come down to the poor math and science skills for U.S. high school graduates. As “Planet Money” columnist Adam Davidson observed recently, “The so-called skills gap is really a gap in education, and that affects all of us.”
We recommend Davidson’s column, "Skills Don't Pay the Bills," which also answers the question: Who makes more, a skilled welder of a McDonald’s shift manager?
These are harsh times for any "technologist" (let's define this as someone whose livelihood depends upon the knowledge and successful execution of his technical capabilities) who wants to earn a living wage. It's no problem to find the money to compensate a banker, hedge fund operator, politician, union leader, bureaucrat or government-employed prison guard, someone whose work output is tangible, but it's nearly impossible to justify paying meaningful compensation to someone who merely "manufactures technically sophisticated products" because with the government-provided education most folks have nowadays it's just hard to figure out what these sophisticated things get used for, let alone what someone would do to make them. Besides didn't we just cede the manufacture of these items to a "friendly" Communist country so we could get them REALLY cheap? And if you're not obviously an Asian by birth we of course just ASSUME you can't possibly understand these technical subjects because you obviously got the same crappy government education we did so you'll never make any real money at this anyway, and in this "socialist nirvana" we've just created this of course ISN'T racism (that was something the conservatives used to do), it's just...just...
Like I said, harsh times. Like $10/hr.
I've never quite bought into the whole class-size argument. Afterall, what happens once we go to college? Class size quadruples, and yet we still learn.
On pay, I'm for paying teachers what they are worth based on their performance, with adjustments for seniority. But I totally oppose tenure. It's counterproductive.
Unfortunately that is minority opinion. But, I see that JeffL_#2 has covered that subject well by highlighting the obsurdly untenuous situation in the state of Canwesinkya.
Speaking of "grow up", you all need to!! Read that NYT article carefully, I'm quoting: "Running these machines requires a basic understanding of metallurgy, physics, chemistry, pneumatics, electrical wiring and computer code." And for all THAT training the employer is willing to pay the princely sum of $10/hour, or $4 LESS than a new shift manager at McDonald's! Has it possibly occurred to ANYONE that the expectation of placing the entire burden of education, keeping current in the field etc. WITHOUT providing adequate compensation for this might just be a ridiculous proposition? Or that anyone who's expecting results under these circumstances has SERIOUS problems with structural mismanagement across his entire enterprise? I guess not, no one's talking about it...
Going from undercompensated to absurdly overcompensated, take a look here Sylvie, in California we just passed a hefty tax increase for additional state revenue which was "sold" as providing revenue for the schools, but all that money really does it start to pay for the underfunded pensions for employees in ALL of this state's public sector unions including teachers, and the union rules (seniority etc.) which MUST be followed out here make any attempt at REAL education reform virtually impossible - probably nothing short of making this a "right to work" state like Wisconsin and Michigan are doing for a start, then reforming the entire system from top to bottom could reverse the decline and rot, but it would take DECADES. We've GOT to get away from this premise that "oh we just need to enter our high school kids in robotics competitions so they'll start learning this STEM stuff and our problems will all go away". Not even close!!!
How about paying teachers a good salary to ensure that the quality of teachers is high? And reducing the number of kids to a class? that's expensive.... but the country owes it to the taxpayer, and should see it as an investment if it expects American children to grow up capable of competing on a global scale.
Sylvie, might you be more specific: what sort of further "investment" this would require? The schools are all built, equiped and staffed. The roads to get to them are all paved and the busses well maintained. The hours of operation and schedules are all a known quantity. So I think the only thing that is missing is something much cheaper than new doors and windows: It's will - the kind of will that might result in sound curricula and high expectations.
But guess what my kid's Elementary School got this summer? New doors and windows.
I certainly agree that the old manufacturing jobs are not coming back. Many people have acknowledged this. If manufacturing does come back to western countries, it will be because it can compete successfully against the low labor cost countries. And that can only come with automation.
There will be some jobs, to run and maintain the machines. I doubt that most of these jobs will require a whole lot of STEM education, though. These are tech jobs that a lot of people can learn to do expertly. Similar to what auto mechanics now have to cope with.
Designing the robotics is obviously another matter. But there, you're talking even fewer jobs, if you're comparing numbers with previous factory floor jobs.
I wouldn't be so pessimistic about automation. We have a lot of young folks perfectly comfortable using digital electronic gadgets, and we have gadget designers who understand intuitive user interfaces. And we also have digital hardware designers fully versed in easy to maintain, modular designs. This can all come together quite nicely.
Well, first we have to invest in STEM before we can get much out of it. Like in everything else, you get out what you put it... so to close the skills gap is going to require a fair amount of capital up front. May take 20 years to see the results, but eventually it will pay off.