Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Education Narrative Morphs: No Workers? Really?

For some time, educational reform advocates claimed reform was urgent because the U.S. will not be able to compete in the global economy. I do not see that rationale used so much anymore, but I am noticing some new ones. A few weeks ago, I listened to a radio show that focused on new initiatives and partnerships between community colleges and the manufacturing sector. In that discussion, the lack of qualified workers was mentioned. Now, I find this same narrative repeated in a Business Week article here.

"Businesses say the slow pace of education reform is hurting their bottom lines. Intel (INTC), the world’s largest semiconductor maker, is having difficulty filling 2,895 U.S.-based engineering positions, according to an Intel spokeswoman. RightNow Technologies (RNOW), which helps businesses offer online and live-chat customer service, has to burn through about 100 résumés to find one person who has the necessary math, science, and computer training. “We need reform,” says Chief Executive Officer Greg Gianforte. “Without highly educated and motivated individuals, we don’t have a future.”

Workers supporting the Space Program have been laid off in droves, across a large spectrum of skills, including engineers. University students are graduating and finding it difficult to get jobs. There are returning soldiers from Afghanistan and Iraq that also represents a pool that have qualified workers to fill these positions. In 2009, Business Week reported that there is no shortage of U.S. engineers in spite of what industry leaders claim. Sorry, if RightNow Technologies has to "burn through" so many resumes, but perhaps their Human Resources Department needs to change approaches. How about the local Workforce Development Office or Hire a Hero Program? Companies must also revisit their internal training programs; those investments have fallen off dramatically. There was a strong customer support employment base before companies began to ship them overseas, which had nothing to do with supply of workers and everything to do with cheap labor costs elsewhere.

Under the current rates of high unemployment, filling current job openings is a rather cynical narrative to advocate for fast-paced education reform.

Find the earlier blog on Boosting Skilled Blue Collar Workers here.


  1. This issue is complex; more than anyone admits. The easy corporate solution, joined by many small businesses, is export jobs to countries, where people age 20 to 40 have the skills; or import skilled workers.

    It's easy to argue this is the best and often only solution. This results from corporations, governments, unions, and their advisers abandoning the American worker; intentionally and unintentionally. No one wants to pay the price to correct decades of mistaken plans and policies.

    My own example: Trapped in a deadend job/career while young, it took a few years to "discover" this. The organization had good job areas I hoped to advance into. During those years of "discovery" (thinking I would get an opportunity to change positions), I worked 50 to 55 hour weeks. I went to a community college part time, when my hours dropped into the low to mid 40s.

    The company led me to understand, unless I chose specific courses that related to their field, I could not use their educational benefit program. On the surface, this makes sense, but jobs and training needs of a community change. (This was one flaw in our job training system.) I paid the full cost of my college, but never benefited through advancement, with this employer, by furthering my education. It took 12 years going almost exclusively part time, to get an A.A. degree.

    When I had my A.A. degree, an A.A. degree was frowned on and treated like a high school diploma. Many employers didn't know what an A.A. degree was. Unemployed for a time, I landed another job in the same field. I have watched my field disappear, now have few if any of today's high level skills employers want, yet I am an intelligent, articulate, capable human being, in need of work in the area I live in. My chance of finding a livable wage again in my lifetime is low, unless I can create my own income through self-employment. (An area where I have no training or experience.) I am but one example of an American worker who has been abandoned by those who can make a difference in the American worker's life.

    No one knows what tomorrow will bring. Therefore skills need to be continually upgraded. Rather than the worker paying for all this, doing all this on his/her own time, while being expected to dedicate ones whole life to the "company," which can and will throw you out at a moment's notice; a sea-change needs to take place.

    If not, I fear Americans may one day take up arms against government, employers, and foreigners, who take jobs that rightfully should belong to Americans. We are abandoned by those who can act to make our future a better day for America and the world. It is a complex issue, which needs everyone to arrive at a positive resolution.

  2. Powerful comment Wyman. At a minimum, we must not be silent nor allow the twisting of reality by those who care only for their own profit-making, and nothing for the good of the nation.