education-and-training-610x250In a time where the American economy is beginning to sprout new growth and get the wheel rolling again, manufacturing is loudly showing how important it is to a strong and stable economy. However, there is one problem: where are all the workers? In a time when people are desperately looking for work, and manufacturers looking to hire more laborers, you would think this is a no-brainer. Well think again. My friends, we have fallen into the skills gap.

There was once a time when going to college was for a select group of people. I don’t mean a certain gender, or specific race, or even just for a person of means. It was for those who wanted to further their education and dedicate their life to academia. The common worker was one who went to work and got dirty; they where factory workers, builders, contractors, and miners (to name a few). These people’s most valuable tools were their own two hands and a creative mind. Then, as the post-World War II era got underway, there was a shift in mindset of American business.

Parents began to press their kids to go to college a lot more. They wanted them to acquire an education that would advance them on a “fast-track” to higher positions within their future careers. Business leaders were no different. They saw the future growth of their businesses not in the factory, but in the office where they could take advantage of the young, new, highly educated college graduate. The technology boom fostered this line of thinking.

“In this vision, all kids would go to college, learn a profession and, ultimately, earn high wages,” Patricia Panchak, Edit-in-Chief of IndustryWeek, wrote in her article The Manufacture’s Agenda: Fixing Our Workforce Education and Training Mistakes. “Our new economy would be built on services and knowledge and finance, not on what was viewed as mere brawn on the factory floor.”

Our business economy became a service driven marketplace. The steam engine of our economy was left to rust. Only now are we beginning to understand the error of our ways. Now that the gates to manufacturing have been oiled and repainted, there are not enough skilled laborers to operate the machines.

So now that we have seen what happened, everyone is screaming for change. We all want a better education system. What good is a free public education if students do not have a fair opportunity to learn something new or most importantly, how to ask questions? And college should not be forced down peoples throats. Not every person is meant to go to college and that’s fine. A darn good living can be made out of life even if you have no degree. Does that mean I encourage people not to go to college? Of course not! But educate them enough before college to allow them to make the decision.

Our system needs balance. Not everyone can be the manager and not everyone can be the workers. We need both college educated leaders and laborers. Students should not only be encouraged to learn math and science, although these skills are extremely valuable, but should learn all subjects. Reading and writing levels of today’s youth are no where near the level they used to be. This is the time to change that and we have the perfect setup to do so.

“Education is – and should be – about challenging current and conventional thinking, whether a subject is English or engineering, French or physics, math or music, programming or probabilities,” John S. McClenahen wrote this in his article Missed Education. I could not have said any better myself.

Chadd Brown
Super Tool, Inc.

John S. McClenahen’s  Miss Education

Patricia Panchak’s The Manufacture’s Agenda: Fixing Our Workforce Education and Training Mistakes.

  1. Scott Ries says:

    Nicely said Chadd. Several of the trade organizations have also stepped up to address or influence the current thought pattern of students, educators and parents. I happen to be involved with the USCTI and they are in the process of refining a nice education drive on

  2. Joe McCuloch says:

    I knew this day was coming…… How are you going to get young folks to come back? Today’s factory is far different than those of the past. I learned my “Trade” from my father, who was a “WWII era craftsman” and kept growing in the “Trade” as it progressed. The training that I recd. from him has been the most valuable tool that I have. Those folks are long gone and very few came up under them. Manufacturing is not a short term investment and it requires generations of training to get “skilled labor.” And, as long as we keep calling it “skilled labor” the young folks will want nothing to do with it. We need a complete new mindset in all areas of our educational system.

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