Fake skills gap. Fake need for training too?

There’s a must-read article over at NYTimes.

As part of his exploration into the mysterious American “skills gap” crisis, author Adam Davidson speaks to the CEO of a Milwaukee manufacturer and learns this:

“At GenMet, the starting pay is $10 an hour. Those with an associate degree can make $15, which can rise to $18 an hour after several years of good performance. From what I understand, a new shift manager at a nearby McDonald’s can earn around $14 an hour.”

The secret behind this skills gap is that it’s not a skills gap at all. I spoke to several other factory managers who also confessed that they had a hard time recruiting in-demand workers for $10-an-hour jobs. “It’s hard not to break out laughing,” says Mark Price, a labor economist at the Keystone Research Center, referring to manufacturers complaining about the shortage of skilled workers. “If there’s a skill shortage, there has to be rises in wages,” he says. “It’s basic economics.”

So if the skills gap is laughable, what are we to make of Scott Walker repeating the skills gap meme during the state of the state address and on the recall campaign trail and pushing CNC machinist training?   Is this really something else?

Walker said back in February,  “We need to send a powerful, powerful message to our young people that there’s not just a job in manufacturing, but a career. A good career.”

Walker was visiting Lindquist Machine in Ashwaubenon:

“Mark Kaiser, president of Lindquist Machine, said he spoke with Walker about the skills shortage and the efforts his company has made to address it, including working with NEW Manufacturing Alliance, which offers programs to junior high and high schools, and Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, which has a machinist-training program.

“We’ve got to connect with the schools,” Kaiser said.”

Hmmm.  Sounds like  schools can deliver really young employees who’ll settle for low wages and bad working conditions when and where others won’t.

Allow me to now backtrack and pull another quote out of the New York Times piece to reinforce my seemingly cynical suspicion:

“Last year, he received 1,051 applications and found only 25 people who were qualified. He hired all of them, but soon had to fire 15. Part of Isbister’s pickiness, he says, comes from an avoidance of workers with experience in a “union-type job.”

Aha.  In this way, the young can be molded to suit the manufacturers.

At Moraine Park Tech in Fond du Lac, a series of 15 week CNC machinist “boot camps” will kick off. Informational sessions start on December 3rd and classes begin February 4, 2013.  The business partners in the training are Ameriquip, Brenner Tank, John Craine Orion, and Mid States Aluminum.

I wonder if the boot camps will serve the area Alternative High School programs.

Leave me a comment if you already know that answer.  I’d like to dig into this some more but right now I have a date with a Packers-Giants game.


A footnote for the record: The skills gap exaggeration has been broadcast in a  bipartisan fashion.  From the same NYTimes article:  “Throughout the campaign, President Obama lamented the so-called skills gap… “


One thought on “Fake skills gap. Fake need for training too?

  1. There’s plenty of evidence to support that skills gaps are emerging in the economy today, and one major way to curb them is to invest in career and technical education (CTE). CTE has proven to deliver many benefits, including improved student achievement and career/earning prospects, more community vitality and more qualified workers for the jobs of today. When businesses work with educators, CTE programs are especially effective.

    The Industry Workforce Needs Council is a new group of businesses working together to spotlight skills gaps and advocate for CTE as a means of bridging them. For more information on the IWNC, or to join the effort, visit http://www.iwnc.org.

    Jason Sprenger, for the IWNC

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