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.
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 email@example.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