Dean Barber

Archive for March, 2012|Monthly archive page

In Uncategorized on March 25, 2012 at 3:11 am

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Many of us are quite adept at telling anyone who will listen about how the world is and how it should be. As a writer of this blog, I am particularly guilty of this.

But sometimes, it’s just better to shut up and listen. And that is what I intend to do in this installment. I am going to let others – principally the jobless and principally the jobless in their 50s — speak. I’ll simply be a conduit for them, the boomers.

Some of you, no doubt, will not approve and a few might even somehow find offense. (One man wrote to me recently saying that virtually everything that I wrote was, in his words, “crap.” I made a point to send him my next blog.)

But I neither hope nor suspect that everything I write will meet your approval or agreement. That is an impossible task, even for the…

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Listen to the Boomers’ Stories

In Uncategorized on March 25, 2012 at 2:15 am

Many of us are quite adept at telling anyone who will listen about how the world is and how it should be. As a writer of this blog, I am particularly guilty of this.

But sometimes, it’s just better to shut up and listen. And that is what I intend to do in this installment. I am going to let others – principally the jobless and principally the jobless in their 50s — speak. I’ll simply be a conduit for them, the boomers.

Some of you, no doubt, will not approve and a few might even somehow find offense. (One man wrote to me recently saying that virtually everything that I wrote was, in his words, “crap.” I made a point to send him my next blog.)

But I neither hope nor suspect that everything I write will meet your approval or agreement. That is an impossible task, even for the best of blatherers. Rather, the sole purpose of this blog, which centers on topics mostly of an industrial/economic development nature, is to merely get you to think.

If I could ask one thing of you, it would be to suspend judgment, at least temporarily, as you read and contemplate these very personal stories. You may not agree with the world views of our story tellers, but then again, you may not have walked the proverbial mile in their moccasins.

You might think their life-coping or workforce skills aren’t as accomplished as your own. If so, then consider yourself blessed. But do not think of them as somehow morally flawed or lesser people. I find it incredible that there is a prevalent view, especially among some younger corporate turks and HR departments, that anybody who found themselves cut from the employment rolls essentially had it coming.

I am reminded of a quote from the movie Unforgiven: “We all have it coming, kid.”

Many of the people quoted below may sound discouraged, but most continue to live with hope and dignity, which is rather admirable.

Some are responding to recent blogs that I’ve written about manufacturing and training. Others are responding to a Bloomberg news story about how the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is reporting that there were about 3.5 million job openings at a time when nearly 13 million people are officially searching for work.

Not surprisingly, if there is a common thread here, it would be suffering, which has been a part of the human condition since we’ve been human. But it is precisely because we are human that I figure we owe it to our fellow man to sometimes be quiet and listen.

You’ll find no profound answers or solutions in this blog. My simple premise is there may be some value for you – the employed (if you are employed) – hearing from them — the unemployed.

So here are their voices. And now I will shut up.

Peter wrote this to me, maybe because he read that my father had worked in grey iron foundries all his life.

“I am a second generation foundryman who has served on the producer and supplier sides of the industry, has helped turn around a company, authored an article in the AFS (American Foundry Society) research library. Though I never wanted employment in any other industry, I’ve been shut out of employment in nearly everything for 11 years.

“I’ve stopped searching in my own industry since one company actually told me they thought I wouldn’t be able to learn the changes over the past 10 years! Same alloys, same furnaces, same raw materials.”

Valencia wrote this in response my recent blog on manufacturing training: “It’s hard to believe we don’t have enough manufacturing employees, I have 15 plus years of experience and have been trying to get back to work for over a year. What does one have to do to get back to work? I still have many good years to give to an employer.”

His screen name is PowderBud and he tells of the difficulty of finding work precisely because he is out of work.

“I have been one of two finalists for positions multiple times only to lose out because the other candidate was working and I was not. It got so bad for me that I took a job outside my industry and for less pay just to keep working and paying my bills. I’ve been penalized for that in interviews.

“Recently I lost another job opportunity because I wasn’t working currently. Since it was clear I wasn’t going to change this hiring managers perspective I asked him “have you seen the news in the past couple years?” His response: “Anyone who is worth hiring wouldn’t have been caught up in that stuff”. This is the mentality out there now by people who have jobs, that only worthless people don’t have jobs.”

The writer calls himself ajym66, and he lays the issue of skills gaps at the doorstep of many employers who complain that they cannot find qualified people.

“It’s about skills? Skills can be learned. Most employers want someone from a competitor that can get running on day one. They don’t want the expense of training someone who may be willing and able to do the job and learn the skills.”

Barbara used to manage a small business but found herself without a job.

“I have been unable to get hired.  I am over 50 and do not have a college degree.  I have been told that “we are looking for a college degree,” or “wow you are much older than we thought,” or “you haven’t worked since 2010,” or “boy are you overqualified,” or “you ran a business why would want to work for me?” or “I can’t pay you what you were earning,” etc.

“I took a seasonal part time job setting up weddings and serving food during last summer in order to look employable.  Well, all that did was cut my unemployment from $400 a week to $65 a week.  Try living on that!!!!”

The screen name says it all – longtimeoff – and the story is compelling.

“I’m 48 and I’ve been out of work for nearly four years. I have an outstanding resume in construction management and facility management. I have sent out over 400 resumes and filled out untold numbers of applications. All this for jobs ranging from project manager to janitor.

“To date I have had ZERO response back from any of them. I believe the age of 45 is the real cut off for employers. Couple that with long term unemployment and it adds up to an undesirable employee to prospective employers.”

I will not bore you with the writer’s long and indecipherable screen name, but he offers words of what I believe are of undeniable truth.

“I wouldn’t underestimate the fact that technology has made all workplaces vastly more efficient–especially offices.  The reason that we have had such high unemployment coincident with record corporate profits is that firms fired workers during the downturn, and then realized that they could do the same amount of business without them.

“In all of the jobs I have had since college, the main goal has been to take some clunky manual process and turn it into an automated, push button exercise.  I think firms are looking for people who not only have knowledge already, but have the ability to synthesize new tasks and create new efficiencies–specific training is the baseline.”

MrWiseOwl offers some advice that is easier said than done, but still worth considering.

“I just turned age 57 last week … I’m so very happy I’ve been self-employed for the past 35 years-straight out of college. No one can fire me, and I earn based upon my talent, experience and abilities. I’m developing a real sense of gratitude for all the risk and hard times I had back in my 20’s, to get where I am today.

“To all you over 50 crowd, find your field of enjoyment (and) become self-employed if you can. Each great journey begins with but a single step. Create your own destiny. Really.”

ConcernedBoomer2012 laments his age in his desire to seek work.

“My belief is there are millions of us out of work because of age discrimination, but how do you prove that? As good as the laws interpret various types of protections, they are not protecting the so called elderly who are being ignored for their abilities and desire to work.”

In response to ConcernedBoomer, Nikkkko suggests that “health insurance cost discrimination” is the real culprit as to why older jobless workers are having a tougher time finding work.

“With health insurance costs out of control to begin with, being over 55 may cost an employer twice as much to hire you over a 20 something. Plus employers know that today’s young accept the idea of working for breadcrumbs since they have not known otherwise.”

My heart hurts for this discouraged young man, who called himself the Macedonian.

“Employers these days only want people who are in their 30s with a college degree and have considerable job experience. I am a young guy with no college degree. I am pretty out of luck for a job that pays a fair wage. Employers don’t even want to bother with training an inexperienced worker. This country is turning into a third world nation. American dream? That dream died decades ago.”

From Lynn’s remarks, it would appear that she might be an HR or hiring manager. She says the housing crisis has been an exacerbating factor to the problem of filling job vacancies.

“ … Jobs are going unfilled because people cannot sell homes in areas that are both bad job markets AND bad home selling markets. I have had qualified candidates not accept positions because they could not financially make their relocation work.”

Finally, we hear from gdsky, who tells his story.

“I, too, was let go after 30 years in management of new car dealerships, for someone 20 years younger and 10k cheaper. I was 55 at the time and even with this experience could not buy a job. I have had to change careers and start over at a time when most want to think of retirement. With the powers that be wanting everyone to work longer, I wonder where we will all find jobs.”

For what it’s worth, I wonder that as well.

Dean Barber is the principal/owner of Barber Business Advisors, LLC., a site selection and economic development consulting firm based in Plano, Texas. He can be reached at 972-767-9518 or at dbarber@barberadvisors.com  Please visit our website at www.barberadvisors.com

Lessons from the North Country

In Uncategorized on March 18, 2012 at 6:40 am

As many of you already know, I’m a manufacturing kinda guy. I grew up in a home in which both of my parents were employed in manufacturing. My father was a metallurgical engineer, a foundry man. My mother worked in cut and sew. We had a good life.

And despite the fact that I have the manufacturing skills of a common day laborer, which is none too common these days in manufacturing, I cannot help but be drawn to industry that makes tangible things.

It is manufacturing clients whom I principally serve in my site selection consulting business. Call me shortsighted, but I do not get a thrill from a potential client that wants to site a call center operation that pays – how should I say this delicately? — crummy wages.

Now you can make the case that in today’s economy, with so many people hurting, that a job is a job is a job. I cannot argue with you. But in addition to serving a corporate client well, I want to build wealth in a community.

And in keeping with my adept foot-in-mouth talents, I recently told an audience in Florida that any local economy that doesn’t have at least a seed of manufacturing present is built upon a house of cards. The thing is, I really believe that.

My Prejudice

But let’s clear the air. Just as you know that I have a bias in favor of manufacturing, I must confess to having a great suspicion of people who make wealth, especially great wealth, by means of financial instruments that, as I see it, game the system.

I am thinking of derivatives, with their complexity and lack of transparency, which resulted in underpriced credit risk and spawned subprime mortgages and then a near meltdown of our financial system. Other than that, I’m fine with those devious people who came up such a scheme.

Making money from money is a tradition that predates the Bible. Of course, we need lenders. Of course, we need investors and venture capitalists. Of course, we need people who are willing to take risk. But things got strange and disconnected.  Wall Street remained the epicenter for capitalism, while Main Street was where most of us participated in commerce.

And it’s Main Street where I take heart, where business practices are grounded in common-sense reality and an ethic of playing by the rules. I don’t believe that about Wall Street. It is there where the greedy bastards reign and plot their financial devices. Now is that totally fair and accurate? Probably not, but it’s more true than we would like.

I don’t know what exactly happened, but I do know that greed is a moral failing that has been with us since time immemorial. As a proponent and defender of capitalism, I have to think that certain guiding principles were perverted along the way by some Wall Street insiders who became obsessed with building their own personal wealth at the expense of the real needs and desires of their customers.

Satisfying a Frog and a Pig

And so when I read this past week of a resigned executive with Goldman Sachs, Greg Smith, who may be the disgruntled employee, as some would assert, or might just be a man who wants to lay his head on a pillow at night and sleep. In a New York Times op-ed that ran last week, Mr. Smith did not hold back.

“It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off. Over the last 12 months I have seen five different managing directors refer to their own clients as ‘muppets,’ sometimes over internal e-mail.”

Now get this, the defenders of Goldman Sachs would suggest this is a prevalent attitude on Wall Street today. Well, that makes me feel a whole lot better. How about you?

Having such an arrogant disdain for your customers probably would not cut it most manufacturing scenarios. That is not to say that there are not ever present quality issues with product failure resulting. Lemons still can and do happen. But if you are going to make it manufacturing today, you typically must make your products per the requirements of your customers or you do not make them at all.

Miss Piggy and Kermit are really that demanding.

Back to the Basics

Now I do not much care for the term or even the concept of “best practices.” What may work and be a “best practice” in one place for one organization does not necessary translate well for another. The same can be said for countries. If you haven’t noticed, we fell short at exporting Jeffersonian democracy to Iran or Afghanistan.

But maybe, just maybe, there are some fundamental truths when it comes to business. Maybe it’s time we get back to the basics. And I am not talking about Luchenbach, Texas, although that is one fine place. No, I’m talking about our steady and resolute neighbor to the north.

It was several weeks ago that I was talking to a Canadian manufacturing executive. Somehow the subject got around to the respective differences in our economies and banking systems. My friend suggested that we – Americans — were more run and gun, more out there in terms of the risks that we are willing to take.

I was not offended but intrigued. Now I do not care to hear some snooty Europeans upbraid us for having a “cowboy” mentality or remind us of our failings as a people. Certainly our history confirms that our American experiment has proved difficult along the way, resulting in the persecution and mistreatment of entire races and groups of peoples, all while celebrating freedom and independence, a cowboy culture so to speak.

Europeans need not remind me of that. And I should not have to remind them that were it not for our flawed cowboy culture, the dark clouds of fascism may still be lingering over their enlightened continent.

Despite Our Wicked Ways 

But it’s different with Canadians. For the most part, they would never be so rude as to point out our shortcomings. And they actually like us despite our wicked ways that they do not understand. We’re their often noisy neighbor – we laugh too hard and we drink too much and we put pink flamingos in our yards – but somehow they’re with us.

Maybe they are just being practical. They know they have to live with us, so why not make the best of it. Still, I cannot help but like Canadians. They are a very sensible people. And for the record, I do like Europeans, even the snooty ones.

My Canadian manufacturing friend said that when we in America boom, we really boom and when we bust, we really bust. Whereas in Canada, things are more or less on an even keel. Business there is a bit more conservative, less flashy and ultimately less destructive. Sticking to the basics is what it’s about.

Sure enough, when I started delving deeper into this, I found that the last bank failures in Canada happened in 1985, with the demise of two banks. There have been two in the United State so far this month. (92 in 2011.) So what gives?

Well, for one, we’ve got two different banking systems. (Deep analysis there, Dean.) Canadian banking is not dominated by so many regional players as you find in the United States. Rather, there are national banks there, banks that essentially do business the same way in every province. Five big national banks dominate.

A Case for Prudence

More importantly, Canadian banks, profitable ventures to be sure, appear not to have gone off the deep end and be blinded by greed.

“Our banks are very prudent lenders,” said Maura Drew-Lytle, a spokesperson for the Canadian Bankers Association.

“We didn’t have any of the subprime mortgages that you had in the states that caused a lot of the problems. We never did anything like that. Banks here would only lend to you if they thought you could pay it back.”

Whoa, what a radical departure, proof again how our well-meaning but delusional neighbors to the North are flirting with socialism. But there are some interesting facts along the way to be considered.

Canada is ranked as having the most sound banking system in the world for four years in a row now by the World Economic Forum. But apparently it’s not just bankers and economists that believe that. About 85 percent of Canadians express confidence in their banking system, according to a 2009 PriceWaterhouseCoopers report.

Unlike here in the US where so many people remain upside down on their mortgages, the amount of home equity in Canada stands at 66 percent of total home value. Canadian lenders tend to hold the mortgages that they originate, whereas US banks use an “originate to distribute” model.

Bottom line: Canadian banks have a much greater incentive to be prudent because they bear the consequences of making bad loans. As of November 2011, just 0.38 percent of mortgages were in arrears in Canada. The rate of arrears in the US is more than ten times higher.

So what does this all mean? Should we ship our Wall Street bankers off to Canada to be indoctrinated and trained in special camps? No, that probably will not be necessary, although the idea is kind of appealing.

Maybe our big Wall Street banks should simply revisit sound banking principles and quit being obsessed with nickel and diming the public on fees or employing the next exotic financial instrument that nobody understands.  Or maybe they should just talk or visit community bankers on Main Street who have a better understanding of us muppets in flyover country.

There is something to be said for being prudent and taking risk in business and in life. Maybe our cowboy ways will sometimes pull us more toward risk. Still, I’ve always thought of cowboys as being honest and forthright. You see, my heroes have always been cowboys, and I’ve always been partial to Miss Piggy.

Need a partner in results-oriented site selection? Contact Dean Barber at 972-890-3733 or at dbarber@barberadvisors.com Barber Business Advisors, LLC, is a site selection and economic development consulting firm based in Plano, Texas. Please visit our website at www.barberadvisors.com

Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be …

In Uncategorized on March 11, 2012 at 7:12 am

Life pivots around perception and how we respond to what we think we are seeing around us.  Sometimes we get it right (I don’t like the way that lion is looking at me so I am getting back into the truck) and sometimes we misjudge big time.  Just read the Darwin Awards.

So how we view the world around us is fundamental to the process of forming values and beliefs and how we respond.  For example, if you have lost a house two times to a tornado is less than one year, which happened recently to one man in northwest Alabama, you start to think, “Maybe I shouldn’t live here.”

For years now, the collective we have perceived manufacturing as something important to our nation’s well-being but not necessarily what we want to do in terms of our own career. It is pretty much common knowledge that millions of jobs have been lost in manufacturing. So why would I want to work in a factory where my chances of getting laid off are exceedingly high? That has been the perception.

And like with many things in life dealing with perception, there is probably a kernel of truth there.

What Mama Wants

So it is not surprising that most parents haven’t been especially keen on the idea of their son or daughter taking a career path into manufacturing, even if manufacturing has been posting job gains for two years now. No, make ‘em be doctors or lawyers or such.

“Mamas, if they have a choice of their kid going to a four-year college versus going into a manufacturing training program, guess which one they are going to choose?” said Danny Collins, an HR consultant serving the automotive industry in Alabama.

Jeff Moad, executive editor with Manufacturing Executive, says the prevailing perceptions by the public today derives in part from the actions of industry itself.

“To some extent, manufacturing in this country has created this problem by pursuing this outsourcing strategy without much consideration of the impact on the attitude about manufacturing as a career,” Moad said.

For corporate decision makers, the choice may have seemed obvious at the time. We can realize huge savings by shutting down our plant in Anywhere, USA, only to reopen a new facility in Mexico, or China, or wherever we perceive operating costs to be lower. And as we all know, that strategy was pursued in a wholesale fashion and entire communities and families were devastated.

Where Is That Next Generation?

But do we not think of how this might impact on the next generation, the sons and daughters of those plant workers who lost their jobs as a result of an offshoring decision? Now, years later, that plant in China or Mexico may not have played out to be the great idea after all.  Now re-shoring is being examined for reasons of costs and quality.

But where are today’s skilled plant workers with training and experience? Where are the motivated young people wanting a career in manufacturing? What message have we conveyed to them? Just how do they (young people with career choices before them) view us, the manufacturers?

Here’s a revolutionary thought: You reap what you sow.

Try This and See What Happens

Greg Knight, vice president of Columbus, Ohio-based AMT Machine Systems, suggests conducting a little experiment. In a social setting with a group of people, try suggesting that manufacturing just might be an alternative to a traditional four-year college degree.

“The reaction will be, ‘No, my kid needs to go to college.’ A career in manufacturing is not seen as a legitimate choice,” said Knight. “You cannot change ideas on this in a short period of time. This is about cultural change and it will take a lot of time and a lot of work.”

In the recently released “Public Pulse on American Manufacturing” by Deloitte, only 33 percent of parents would encourage their child to pursue a career in manufacturing, only 19 percent of school systems are perceived to encourage students to pursue careers in manufacturing, and only 17 percent of students report being encouraged by their parents to pursue a career in manufacturing.

So clearly the challenge is to change perceptions of both parents and young people, said Moad with Manufacturing Executive.

Creating Demand is Key

“So we can talk all we want about creating training programs and apprenticeship programs and providing the right resources for training, but at the same time you also have to create a demand for those resources among potential employees – the next generation of employees,” Moad said.

Right now we are in a presidential campaign season. Candidates roam the country offering ways to “bring the jobs back.” But many manufacturers are saying the jobs are already here. What’s missing are the skilled workers needed to fill them. Widely held perceptions, indeed misconceptions, about what manufacturing is and represents is partly to blame for the skills gap.

A recent report by Deloitte for the Manufacturing Institute, based on a survey of manufacturers, found that as many as 600,000 jobs are going unfilled. This is happening at a time when the unemployed in the United States number about 13 million.

Ignorance is Not Bliss

Kevin Paveglio, president of ECPI College of Technology in Virginia Beach, Va., believes that much of the lack of interest in manufacturing is a matter of exposure. Students and their teachers just don’t know what is out there, because they have never set foot in a modern manufacturing plant.

“Where in high schools do they introduce anything like shop? Now shop today would be different. It would be computers and robots and CNC mills but there used to be a time, when I went to high school, there were no computers then, but we all got exposed to it. They stopped. They stopped completely,” Paveglio said.

“How do you know if someone has these capabilities and how do you nourish these capabilities? It’s when you’re young. And if nobody is talking about it, nobody is aware of it. I would make you a bet on my next paycheck that nine out of ten math and science high school teachers have no idea what is going on in manufacturing right now. And therefore, they cannot transfer that information to kids.”

Moad agrees that visibility is key to changing perceptions about manufacturing.

“Kids and their parents really aren’t aware of what manufacturing is. They don’t receive any kind of information about it, either in school or in any kind of popular cultural references. There is just no visibility of what manufacturing is,” Moad said.

“Compare that in this country 50 years ago when probably someone in your family had a career in manufacturing or your neighbors. There were shop classes in school taught by teachers who had careers in manufacturing previously. So there was a lot more visibility back then.”

So people no longer think much about manufacturing and when they do, “it’s thought of as being unsecure and kind of dirty and undesirable profession that is suited to people who can’t make it in college,” Moad said.

Share the Load and Open Up

Last week, I wrote about a growing trend in manufacturing that views training as somebody else’s job – specifically that of community colleges and government. That belief has short-circuited efforts or programs to offer in-house training and apprenticeships.

Now, certainly that is not true for all manufacturing companies. Some still have the foresight to provide employees with extensive in-house training programs. But more and more think training can and should be farmed out to somebody else.

I got a lot of reaction from that blog, mostly positive, from manufacturing execs who agreed that training in-house has taken a backseat, which is already coming back to haunt us. Last week, I was not so tough on educators, placing much of the blame squarely on the shoulders of manufacturers.

Actually, it’s a shared responsibility between manufacturers and educators. If perceptions are to be changed, both sides have to come together, to educate one another and devise ways to show young people that manufacturing can indeed be a very good career choice. One way would be to simply open up the plants for public tours and school groups.

“Manufacturers are now starting to permit students back inside their facilities. It got very competitive in manufacturing to the point that your little secret was the reason you were making money over the other guy. So we stopped giving tours. We stopped letting people into our plants. We essentially locked them down,” Paveglio said. “When I was a young man, we could go tour just about any plant.”

Our Torn Views

It’s clear that Americans value a strong manufacturing sector. When asked which industries are most important to the national economy, manufacturing is always near the top of the list. If you were to poll economic developers nationwide and ask them if they could create 1,000 new jobs in their community with any new facility, you can bet that for most communities would choose manufacturing.

And yet, if you were to ask those same economic developers if they wanted their sons or daughters to pursue a career in manufacturing, what do you think the answer might be. Well, I think you probably already know the answer to that one.

So we are torn. We want manufacturing jobs, just for someone else. Deloitte’s public pulse study showed that out of seven key industries, manufacturing ranks second to last as a career choice. It remains perceived by most people as an unstable long-term career choice. And our future talent pool is none too thrilled. Among 18-24 year-olds, manufacturing ranks dead last among industries as a career choice.

That’s not good. We have our work cut out for us. So mamas, your babies don’t have to grow up to be doctors and lawyers and such. They can have a good future in a modern manufacturing plant if they only pursue the training and develop the needed skills.

Nobody said it can or would be easy. There are no guarantees in life, just better informed choices. Manufacturing deserves another look.

Need a partner in results-oriented site selection? Contact Dean Barber at 972-890-3733 or at dbarber@barberadvisors.com Barber Business Advisors, LLC, is a site selection and economic development consulting firm based in Plano, Texas. Please visit our website at www.barberadvisors.com

Let’s Get Real

In Uncategorized on March 4, 2012 at 7:30 am

More often than not, the source and solution of our problems can be found by the sometimes unpleasant task of looking into the mirror. We typically do not like to do this. It is far more convenient to shuck it off onto someone else. It’s their fault. My hands are clean.

Oh really?

So when manufacturers in this country lament that they cannot find the people qualified to do the work they require, many (not all) will lay blame at the feet of educators. They are not providing us with the required human capital. Our schools are turning out, in essence, a nation of unqualified boobs.

This blog will not be written in defense of our education system. There are good school systems and bad school systems, and no doubt the argument can be made that we are not producing the number of graduates with math and science degrees needed for the 21st century. You go ahead and write that blog, and I will read it and nod approvingly.

No, the point of today’s rant is that many employers, and in particular manufacturers, now hold the belief that it is somebody else’s job, certainly not their own, to provide the needed training for their work force.

Again I say, “Oh really?”

In short, more and more employers are looking for that all-knowing, all experienced employee who can hit the ground running without any training. But is that realistic? I think you may already know the answer to that by the way I so faithfully skewed the question.

Objection. The prosecution is leading the witness,

Over-ruled. You may continue, Mr. Barber.

Thank you, your honor.

A recent report by Deloitte for the Manufacturing Institute, based on a survey of manufacturers, found that as many as 600,000 jobs are going unfilled. This is happening at a time when the unemployed in the United States number nearly 13 million.

“High unemployment is not making it easier to fill positions, particularly in the areas of skilled production and production support,” the Deloitte report found.

So clearly there is a disconnect somewhere. Something is wrong.

Now I wish I could tell you that this notion that employers are not as engaged in training as they used to be was all original thought with me, but it is not. My original thoughts consist of ideas like “I’m going to take a walk” or “I am going to eat this apple.” That is about the extent of my original thought, a terrible admission to make for an all-knowing business consultant.

No, I happened upon the writings of Peter Cappelli, who is the George W. Taylor professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and director of Wharton’s Center for Human Resources. And the source was the venerable Wall Street Journal, so you know that it has to be right.

I also was impressed by some observations of Jeff Moad, executive editor at Manufacturing Executive, and my old friend Danny Collins, a HR consultant serving tier one automotive suppliers in Alabama. I spoke to Professor Cappelli and Danny, but was never able to get Mr. Moad on the phone.

But the consensus from these three men is that manufacturers in this country are increasingly taking the peculiar and rather shortsighted view that training is simply not their responsibility. That view is only buttressed by the advent and attempted transformation of the community college system and the effective demise of apprenticeship programs here in the US.

The end result, according to Cappelli, is that many employers will essentially sit and wait for Mr. or Ms. Right to walk into the door as an experienced candidate who can hit the ground running with no training needed.

“A lot of companies want to find somebody who has demonstrated that they have already done the job before in a way that they could just step in and do it without any kind of ramp up time. That is the unrealistic part,” Cappelli said.

Much of the problem can be traced to the fact that more and more companies do not have training programs in place.

“They assume with all this unemployment that there are a lot of people out there who could just do their job perfectly and they just have to keep looking for them. That is a different model to be sure,” Cappelli said.

“Now that might work for one company to do that, to say, ‘We’re not going to train people. We’re just going to wait to find the right people.’ But if everybody does that, which seems to be the trend, then we have a problem.”

Danny Collins, president of Southern Professional Resources, in Birmingham, Ala., said the recession essentially scared and scarred some companies, who came to view training as more as an expense than an investment toward the future.

“There are plenty of companies out there now that choose not to put the effort into training, which is kind of nutty,” Collins said. “The progressive companies realize that in order to ensure themselves of a continued pipeline of qualified people, they need to be active with training programs.”

But Cappelli suggests that fewer companies are taking such a long-term view. Witness the demise of the wide use of apprenticeship programs in this country.

“The craft union apprenticeship programs are largely dead because the unions died. And the unions were the people that made them go,” Cappelli said.

“In other kind of apprenticeship programs, the companies for a lot of reasons just don’t want to do them. Maybe they don’t want to take the time. Maybe they feel they are training people and they are not sure how long that they are going to need them. Or maybe they are afraid that somebody will hire them away. So they just don’t seem to be doing them.”

In preparing to write this blog, I dutifully engaged in a news internet search for the words “apprentice” and “apprenticeship.” I found plenty of hits for news stories originating in Great Britain, but virtually nothing here in the US. No doubt, there are some apprenticeship programs still in existence here, but the concept and practice appears not to be in frequent use.

“A lot of those programs have just gone away,” Collins said.

Write Jeff Moad, executive editor of Manufacturing Executive: “At some point manufacturers themselves need to take on the challenge of developing the next generation. … A good start would be the kind of apprenticeship programs we see in Germany and used to see in the US.”

No, the norm today in the US is that community colleges and government are supposed to be the primary sources for training. At least that is the thinking for many manufacturers, says Cappelli. And while that mindset is in place, the chance for a strong resurgence in apprenticeship programs in the US is not good.

“I don’t think it is going to happen. I don’t think the employers want to do it. I think they are hoping they can get someone else to do it for them, like community colleges and the government,” Cappelli said.

“The problem is that governments and community colleges are not good at teaching those sorts of skills. They are work based. You’ve got to do them hands on. And it is not very efficient to try to teach somebody to be a carpenter in a classroom. And that is not just true for skilled trades but it’s true for all kinds of work.  The best way to learn is by doing it.”

Now please. Do not think by me quoting Dr. Cappelli that I am in league with him suggesting that your beloved community college is not doing public good by engaging in training. I am not saying that, and I don’t think he is saying that. What he is saying, and to which I agree, is that companies have to be involved. It should not fall solely on the shoulders of community colleges or government.

“The problem there is that community colleges originally were not set up to meet the specific needs of individual employers. Only in recent years have they got into doing what you might think of as job training,” Cappelli said.

“And that seems to be the demand now – the companies would like them to not only provide sort of general training for students but also meet the quite specific needs of the individual employer. That’s kind of a stretch to ask them to do that, especially with taxpayer dollars.”

It’s so easy to point fingers at someone else. So often you will hear the following from industry associations: The schools aren’t meeting our industry needs. They are not providing us with the skilled people that we so desperately need. But I have to think of that old blues song with the refrain, “Before you accuse me, take a look at yourself.”

“They are blaming the schools for the problem, but virtually none of these employers are hiring entry level workers,” Cappelli said. “If you ask employers what’s wrong, most never look at themselves in thinking what to do.”

So maybe, if this is all true, and I suspect that the good professor is on to something here, maybe, just maybe, manufacturers should just get real. Certainly many companies do have robust training programs within, but the idea of relegating all or most of your training to an outside source does seem a bit of a stretch.

Ultimately, the questions before our manufacturing companies pose themselves: Is it somebody else’s job to train our people to get them up to speed? Is that the right course? Is that realistic? Could it be that we might have some shared responsibility here? Might we want to stop for a moment and look in the mirror?

Need a partner in results-oriented site selection? Contact Dean Barber at 972-890-3733 or at dbarber@barberadvisors.com Barber Business Advisors, LLC, is a site selection and economic development consulting firm based in Plano, Texas. Please visit our website at www.barberadvisors.com