Tuesday, August 17, 2004

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Does America suffer from a skills deficit?

One of the policy debates that emerges with the offshore outsourcing debate is whether greater investments in training and education would really address the shift in jobs demand that comes with greater technological innovation and international trade.

With that debate in mind, Timothy Aeppel has a Wall Street Journal front-pager on the current difficulties American employers are facing because of the dearth in Swiss-style machinists:

Two years ago, Robert Schrader got a call from a recruiter trying to lure him from his job in New Hampshire to opportunities as far away as Florida. He eventually took a new position in Massachusetts, after he had negotiated a raise, an expense-paid move and better health coverage. Since then, his old boss in New Hampshire has tried to woo him back.

Mr. Schrader isn't a hotshot young executive with a Harvard MBA. He's a factory worker.

That group in recent times has been associated more with unemployment lines than with the corporate recruiting circuit. But Mr. Schrader isn't your average blue-collar worker. He is a "Swiss style" machinist, a specialty developed more than a century ago to make tiny, very precise gears and shafts for the European watch industry.

More recently, Swiss-style machining has been married with advanced computer technology to become essential in the precision manufacture of a wide range of products, from bone screws to roller balls for Bic pens. Mr. Schrader's employer in Holyoke, Marox Corp., makes medical implants and instruments.

It takes years of on-the-job training to become a skilled Swiss-style machinist, and few young people are entering the trade. The steady flow of skilled immigrants who once filled many top craftsman jobs has dried up. The result is that at a time when many U.S. industrial jobs have been lost to low-cost countries such as China, American factories have a shortage of certain highly skilled workers. Other hot factory skills include some types of specialty welding and workers adept at programming the latest computerized production machinery. Mr. Schrader and others like him are part of a new working-class elite in such demand that some employers are even offering signing bonuses of a few thousand dollars.

The shortage comes at a bad time for U.S. manufacturers, who are finally seeing an upswing in business. If they can't find the skilled workers they need, many companies could ultimately find it tougher to remain players in globally competitive markets.

Since the latest machinery is increasingly available in many other parts of the world as well, "the only way to keep a competitive edge is by having the skilled people who know how to get the most out of those machines," says Stephen Mandes, executive director of the National Institute of Metalworking Skills, a group that sets worker skill standards.

Some companies are already turning away business for lack of expert workers. Accu-Swiss Inc., which makes specialized metal parts for medical and defense industries, has turned down between 10% and 20% of potential business this year for lack of Swiss-style machinists to staff its factory, says Sohel Sareshwala, president of the Oakdale, Calif., company.

"It's clear that a hot emerging issue for manufacturing is skilled-worker shortages," says Jerry Jasinowski, president of the National Association of Manufacturers. He says the problem will worsen in coming years as baby boomers retire.

Boston Centerless Inc. in Woburn, Mass., a 106-employee maker of highly precise metal parts for other manufacturers, used recruiters to hire five Swiss-style machinists this year. It still needs at least two more. The company pays current workers bounties of up to $500 a head for referrals that lead to new hires. The most skilled new hires earn up to $25 an hour.

Here's a chart of the expected increase in demand for certain skill jobs for the future:


It should be noted that the story also says, "U.S. apprenticeship programs have dwindled as the large American companies that once provided the bulk of such training have cut back to save money and now outsource some of the work."

posted by Dan on 08.17.04 at 05:02 PM


Love your blog, and though I think I am just a bit to the left of you, you are almost always enlightening! :)
As to this particular post. I think one of the problems not really talked about is the increasing lack of vocational education among high school students. For example, the school I teach at is not replacing the retired carpentry teacher, because that particular 'unit' needs to go toward an ESE/ESOL teacher to improve test scores. Some kids are only in school FOR the vocational stuff! It is important, I think, to provide them that opportunity. Welding, machining, carpentry...they can be just as important to rural and inner city students as college prep might be to a suburban kid (obviously I'm generalizing, but the point, I think, stands).

posted by: Steve M on 08.17.04 at 05:02 PM [permalink]

Good news!

There's a brand new school for machinists in my building.

So all hope is not lost.

posted by: praktike on 08.17.04 at 05:02 PM [permalink]

Doesn't this present a great oppurtunity for the US though? We have all this downsizing going on due to outsourcing. Everyone is harping on the need for job retraining. Isn't this a perfect harmony? It seems like a natural step.

Is the Bush admin doing enough to get those job retraining programs off the ground?

posted by: David Schraub on 08.17.04 at 05:02 PM [permalink]

The local auto repair votech operation is in trouble too. Frankly, I place much of the blame on teachers who disdain learning that isn't fixated on a college degree. They've convinced parents that being electricians and mechanics and plumbers is only for dumb people. So the poor parents go into debt paying for a degree, and their kids end up working in a generic job until they learn enough to be useful at something else. I wouldn't be at all ashamed to have a kid who was an electician. It's a lot more stable than being a web jockey.

posted by: Bryan C on 08.17.04 at 05:02 PM [permalink]

Just a few random observations:
--True, VoTech is being taken out of high schools but it is not being abandoned. A lot of JuCo's are picking up the slack. I live in Austin and the CC here offers a cert for wafer fab, carpentry, plumbing to name a few. I live across the street from a very busy tech school that offers welding and HVAC.
--There are so many people going to college now that a degree from anything other an elite school (state or private) is not much better than a HS diploma was in the 60's & 70's. Why not go to school and learn something that you actually use every day? I've never been in an environment where the overriding key to my success depended upon how well I actually did my job (office politics is the overriding factor for most second tier state school schlubs like me).
--When I grow up I wanna be an electrician.

posted by: Mr. Allen on 08.17.04 at 05:02 PM [permalink]

This reminds me of the great skilled tool & die worker shortage, that filled newsmagazines some twenty years ago.

posted by: The Sanity Inspector on 08.17.04 at 05:02 PM [permalink]

How come they did not you start training people in 2001? IMO companies like these have grown too much lazy fat, relying entirely on the market and government to take care of their responsibilities. If you don't have staff you don't have an enterprise. And if you cannot handle the basic elements of enterprise then someone else will be eager to teach you how it's done.

posted by: Arthur C. Spock on 08.17.04 at 05:02 PM [permalink]

I seriously doubt greater investments in training and education would really curb outsourcing. The primary reason for outsourcing is money, and corporations found a gold mine in India. Whatever we learn, they can learn also, and they'll work for less than half of what we will.

posted by: entertainment news on 08.17.04 at 05:02 PM [permalink]

> As to this particular post. I think one of the
> problems not really talked about is the increasing
> lack of vocational education among high school
> students.

Big difference from the 1950s/1960s: a shop floor employee today needs to be able to do math at the 1st year JuCo level and read at a true high school graduate level.

The vocational programs in my high school days were for the guys (99.5%) who weren't suited to classroom instruction in algebra, trig, and composition. Problem is that if you can't do trig you are fairly useless on a modern shop floor.

I think that is probably the real reason that the vocational programs are being pushed out of high schools: the filter has been moved up one level.


posted by: Cranky Observer on 08.17.04 at 05:02 PM [permalink]

In general, I find the shortage arguments funny from free market types. Market forces are only allowed in places other than labor factors.

posted by: dand on 08.17.04 at 05:02 PM [permalink]

Cranky's got it right. Unfortunately for the "mentally challenged" doing almost anything in a modern factory requires a working, logical brain. I made a very nice career (39 years) and a lot of money using mine. And when I retired I was asked to return on a part time basis.

posted by: glenn on 08.17.04 at 05:02 PM [permalink]

the large American companies that once provided the bulk of such training have cut back to save money

Therefore the workers have to choose the skill, and not the other way around, and they have to make an investment of not just time but also money into that skill.

It is not economically a good idea for large groups of people to invest their resources into a specialty skill that does not have a broad range of application, and especially one (like the example) where the labor demand is apparently quite volatile.

In other words, you're better off spinning a specialty skill wheel, and learning that. That way, in theory, the even distribution of chance that you will follow one obscure skilled trade vs. another should at least avoid rampant surplus of a certain skill. Of course, that sort of planned (or randomly planned) labor would be communist!

Not that the job market works that way... even if you base the spaces on the wheel on the current job demand has nothing to do what the job demands will be after you're out of the training program.

Couple this with the observations by other commenters that trade skills are increasingly being taken out of high schools. Another pointed out that those skills are now provided by junior colleges. Meaning that training that was once provided by the public school system is now provided by the private (i.e. for-cost) school system -- again, the burden of training expense now on the trainee.

This fits completely into the recent economic pattern, which is: more expense for the laborer, lower income potential, and lower chance of employability.

On another note:

It takes years of on-the-job training to become a skilled Swiss-style machinist

Unfortunately, "on-the-job training" simply doesn't exist anymore. After all, as the first excerpt shows, it's not in the employer's interests to pay for training. It's up to the unemployed to know what training is needed, and to pay for that training. The idea of actually investing in your employees has died.

posted by: Keith Tyler on 08.17.04 at 05:02 PM [permalink]

Employer disinvestment in job training applies to the legal profession too. There has been a significant to major decrease in the litigation skills of insurance defense counsel over the past ten years due to cost-cutting by insurance companies.

Insurance companies either do not understand, or don't care due to short-sighted focus on the next quarter's bottom line, how failure to fund training of junior litigation counsel causes their costs to soar years down the line as civil cases go to trial or settlement which should have been knocked out by motions before then.

posted by: Tom Holsinger on 08.17.04 at 05:02 PM [permalink]

I would say that market forces are humming along very nicely. Proprietary postsecondary schools have duly noted the trade skills shortage and are directing resources toward it. Universal Technical Institute had a successful IPO late last year on this basis and both they, Corinthian and Lincoln Tech, three of the largest for-profit school operators, have all been investing in new trades-focused campuses.

And while Swiss-style machining might be a niche occupation that could be vulnerable to overseas competition, take a look at automotive technician--a stable field of 1M workers expected to add 392K jobs by 2012 (far in excess of any of the occupations profiled in the WSJ article). There is a skills shortage there as well, since automotive technology has changed rapidly over the past 10 years, and not nearly enough workers have been retrained on the computer-diagnostic equipment and electrical systems that are essential to master in order to repair today's cars (not to mention the custom-body work and audio-visual installations that are becoming increasingly popular among ride-pimpers).

What's important is that these service professions--auto mechanics, electricians, plumbers, etc.--are most emphatically not outsourceable. Wages are going up not down for well-trained workers in these fields, and employability is very high.

It's true that the burden of postsecondary educational expenses has been shifting from the general taxpayer to the individual getting the training, but the returns to postsecondary education have become increasingly high in this society and those returns accrue predominantly to the individual getting educated, so I'm not sure that this is terribly concerning.

posted by: Euskaria on 08.17.04 at 05:02 PM [permalink]

Too many decades and too much emphasis on sending all through univ. system and indoctrinating in elitism (in addition too many years of req'd. warm body hours k-12 ed system) l960s and other hide-outs in univs. didn't know and don't how to do anything. Half the programs should have been red penciled out years ago. Fraudulent and negligence of what makes maintains a country.

posted by: Alex on 08.17.04 at 05:02 PM [permalink]

Tom, you're partially correct: insurers have indeed cut back on the assignment of cases to junior lawyers. These cases are instead going to 'house counsel' operations. Most of these simpler cases that in olden days would have gone to a junior associate, are now staying in house. Junior associates are having to learn on much more difficult cases that do go to outside counsel. In other words, there is no apprentice system for young attorneys. Where I think you are wrong is that a good insurer has a very good claim dept. that assists the trial lawyer in recognizing what needs to be done including appropriate motion practice.

Still, your ultimate point is dead on: without proper training for young associates and claims people, when old dinos like me retire, the bench is damn thin.

posted by: weinerdog43 on 08.17.04 at 05:02 PM [permalink]

I am not an economist -- but shouldn't this chart have some type of normalization? I mean, its great that jobs in these area are growing, but is this significant growth? Can't tell just looking at those numbers. Machinists are growing at just 1% yearly (the chart is growth over EIGHT years). Electricians, are growing at 2% a year -- definitely not as exciting as the 8-year projection. How does this growth shape up relative to the rest of teh economy and other jobs? One gigantic caveat of course is that LD's #'s on growht in job-areas have been notoriously inaccurate for ages. I was under the impression that they even commissioned a study to find out why their estimates are so awfully wrong. So I'm really not sure if their eight year projection is really woth anything.

Can't read WSJ, since I don't have a subscription, so hopefully helped out.

posted by: Jor on 08.17.04 at 05:02 PM [permalink]

Employers don't have an incentive to invest in employee skills unless they can guarantee that they can recoop that investment before that employee decides his employer-paid-for training could get him a better job somewhere else.

We ought to encourage people to save money for use in their own vocational training like we do for higher education. People need to invest in themselves, but they shouldn't consider only type of investment.

posted by: ATM on 08.17.04 at 05:02 PM [permalink]

Employers have caused their own problems here. Check the help wanted section of any newspaper or online. Experience is what is demanded/required. All the training in the world won't help you a bit when the interviewer asks about experience. Employers are not willing to do ojt. They want years of experience gained at someone else's expense. And if you don't have it you ain't gettin the job. Then they boo-hoo to the gov about a lack of availability of skilled labor and beg for the H1bs. Why? I dunno, you figure it out. I've trained myself in several programming languages, but without a reference that says I have experience with it, prospective employers won't even talk to me. And forget about the coding learned in college. In my experience, nobody uses the crap they teach you in college. Regardless, training does not qualify as experience.

posted by: ng on 08.17.04 at 05:02 PM [permalink]

I was under the impression that one of the main goals of Bush's new Community College policy was to help upgrade the skills of American workers. In Reno NV the community college has 2 parts: business and industry, which does vocational training, and an academic side, which serves to prepare students for 4 year college or get them AA degrees. The business and industry portion runs regular surplusses due employers willingness to pay fees to upgrade their employee's skills. Still the community college prefers to devote its resources and attention to the academic side of things.

This issue of how to ensure there are enough skilled workers has bedeviled other countries too. Germany had a famous system of joint company-union apprenticeships but recently there have been complaints that this has broken down and what remains is an ossified licensing system that serves to restrict entry. Britain has debated for decades how to provide training for those not going on to college - my understanding is that no one is really satisfied with the current (non-)system.

The US high school level vocational education system seems to have failed, but the idea of providing tax subsidies and student loans to those pursuing training seems to be something that could work. The military also provides training in some fields.

posted by: Kevin on 08.17.04 at 05:02 PM [permalink]

I wonder how this the training otj education thing works in the countries where they have plenty of swiss style machinists! My brain is sleepy now, but maybe I can fool with google tomorrow.

posted by: David Weisman on 08.17.04 at 05:02 PM [permalink]

What good is four year degree anymore? An entry-level position usually, even if the degree was "earned" at a decent school. Unless you "know" someone, a degree is just about worthless...until 4 or 5 years down the line. In four of five years a smart guy in a skilled trade can become a supervisor or a small business owner making just as much or more money than a degreed middle-manager. When you couple that with the burden of school debt and moving to a big city to have a chance at a job, the idea of going through four years of school is not very appealing. Unless you want to PARTY!

I also want to mention something the article didn't address. That is "Garage Businesses". Businesses that start out in the garage and blossom into multi-billion dollar corporations. These "dummies" that didn't finish college seem to start the lion’s share of small businesses. Bill Gates comes to mind in the computer industry, Joe Martin of Sherline comes to mind, Paul Teutal of American Chopper comes to mind to name just a few.

On the other side of the coin there are the degreed folks that have ideas no doubt, but it usually takes millions to get those Ideas into an actual business plan and start making money if they ever make money at all. Donald Trump successes and failures come to mind in this regard. The degreed guys have the business schools theory engrained into their beer laden heads. They long for, nary, they need an accountant, lawyer, and staff right away. What they don't realize is a small business can't survive with all of these money sucks, unless they have a ton of start-up capital. Even then a good lawyer and accountant will make sure that start-up capital no longer exists.

Then there are the Doctors, Lawyers, and Dentists, which are very good and lucrative small businesses (with the exception of Lawyers, but that is another topic IMO). But how long is it before these professions start making money, or positively contribute to society in the lawyer’s case? Lots of debt before one of these folks can even think about starting something on their own.

Small Businesses drive this country's economy; a fact you cannot refute; and I'd be willing to bet the majority of the small businesses are run by non-degreed, dummy, C students, when you take out Law Firms, Dentists, and Doctors.

posted by: Rugby10 on 08.17.04 at 05:02 PM [permalink]

On the subject of OTJ (on-the-job training) -- usually it's referring to the fact that the employer is NOT willing to take the time/expense to send somebody to an actual class, whether internl or external.
OTJ means you get stuck as the helper for a more experienced person and have to muddle through, picking it up as you go.
A more formal class, however hands-on, followed by some carefully guided initial real world experiences is the way to go -- yet so rarely done by employers anymore.

posted by: newscaper on 08.17.04 at 05:02 PM [permalink]

Umm, this is actually pretty much what's happening in China right now. Some factories are paying bounties of up to 200 yuan per unskilled worker. And skilled workers in some sectors have seen wages skyrocket.

posted by: Stephen Frost on 08.17.04 at 05:02 PM [permalink]

You can just about forget getting a lot of trainig from Austin Community College. I am a graduate and my father was an instructor there. The programs aren't dead yet but vocational is a bad word as the higher ups want to see it as a "real" college where one learns liberal arts. Recently they joined some accreditation organization that decided that if you don't have a masters in your subject you can't teach.
My dad has been teaching electronics for them for about 20 years and ran the Vo-tech division. now, since he doesn't have a masters in AC/DC or Semiconductors he can't teach. Know anybody with a masters in AC and DC.? No an EE is not AC/DC so that doesn't count. How about a masters in Welding?

posted by: Don Colbath on 08.17.04 at 05:02 PM [permalink]

"Whatever we learn, they can learn also, and they'll work for less than half of what we will."

And they can afford to, because it doesn't cost thousands of regulation created dollars to work there.

posted by: SDN on 08.17.04 at 05:02 PM [permalink]

A joke:

I own a small apartment building (in which I live) as an investement. One of my tenants had a clogged drain, which I tried to fix with a plunger, drano, and my 7' snake. Didn't work, so I called a local plumber a friend had referred me to.

The plumber, a woman about 50 years old, shows up & checked the other drains, hauls out a 25' snake and collar, and clears the clog in under 5 minutes.

And then hands me a bill for $125.

"$125! I'm a doctor (family practice) and I don't charge anywhere near this much!"

The plumber just looked at me and said " Neither did I, back when I was a dermatologist."

posted by: David D on 08.17.04 at 05:02 PM [permalink]

So the machining companies pay starvation wages for decades, and now cry that there's no one to work? Boo Hoo.

I left my home state because the employers there would not pay enough to live. I was not the only one. Hell, EVERY single person who was not tied down was leaving. Now wages there have skyrocked. You still couldn't get me back there with a boatload of money. The problem with skilled workers is that they are smart. :)

Find a skill that uses your hands, because robotic technology blows.


posted by: Xin on 08.17.04 at 05:02 PM [permalink]

"This reminds me of the great skilled tool & die worker shortage, that filled newsmagazines some twenty years ago."
Posted by The Sanity Inspector

Ah! I remember this well, it was about the time I worked in Chicago for Motorola, which had recently sold off all of its consumer electronics (tv/radio) to Matsushita (Quasar). They had layed off all but 3 of their Machinists. A HUGE machine shop with about 100 milling machines layed idle.

Several of my Dad's Machinist friends had been layed off and couldn't find work. Then theres a report that the US need more Machinists to compete.

Sounds a lot like today's Tech industry. Lots of layoffs, a preponderance of available workers. Many of the jobs going overseas, yet we are told that we need more students studying in IT and engineering. The market is not there so wisely students are not selecting the field.

The Swiss Style Machinist market is small, so the availability of workers is small. They are making some money but obviously it is not in the same range as CEO salaries or the market would be flooded. I can't see how there is any problem with the current supply.

Whenever I see a dubious story like this I assume it is underwritten by an industry that wishes to reduce labor costs.

posted by: Steve Holmes on 08.17.04 at 05:02 PM [permalink]

We hear the same crying about nursing shortages. We don't have a nursing shortage either - we just have a shortage of employers who are willing to pay current market prices for them.

MA isn't a cheap place to live, and the one item you cite speaks of $25/hr as if it's a king's ransom. They can cry me a river. Raise the wages and this little problem will take care of itself.

But if the employers whine long enough maybe they can pick your pocket and mine via govt programs, eh?

posted by: J Bowen on 08.17.04 at 05:02 PM [permalink]


Stories like this always make if laugh coldly.

As people have noted no one wants training costs because employees aren't loyal. Employees aren't loyal because the companies aren't. Chicken, meet egg.

I know a quite a number of older men in the skilled trades, mostly from europe. Mostly because a family member seeks them out to do "special projects" like custom furniture, specioal castings, machining and the like. None of these guys turns down interesting work because their "line job" is dull to them, mostly.

Here's the kicker: *None* of them recommends to their kids to go into these trades. These are all well paid, middle class, skilled tradesmen.

The jobs they have don't use all their skills, they are treated like morons by management (big gripe), and they are discarded like kleenex as soon as the economy blips.

This ought to tell us something.

posted by: Fred on 08.17.04 at 05:02 PM [permalink]

For all the talk of shortages and the like, heres what the article tells us.

Schrader earns, with overtime, 50,000 per year. It need hardly be mentioned that overtime is not stable, and could easily fade away. So Schrader, a highly skilled machinist, with several years of experience would make aroudn $40-45 K without overtime (my guess). And thats in MA, an expensive state, even in its small towns.

What shortage ? If there was a real shortage , salaries for someone with this skillset would not be equivalent to that of a college grad with 2 years experience [ It need hardly be added that someone with a professional degree in engineering, law, business could earn far more].

Why on Earth would anyone want to work in this field unless he or she really, really loves to work with his hands ?

posted by: erg on 08.17.04 at 05:02 PM [permalink]

As we wrung out all the fat from our economy, we eliminated our ability to do things like have apprenticeship programs. We forced all these medical cost savings, by law, and then complain about the result. We also imposed the regulatory burden that has nailed our economy.

The push for cost savings and competitiveness has created the whole climate where companies have little choice but to go offshore to get the best price. It seems to be one of those unintended consequences that we keep running into.

Now we complain about the spiraling healthcare costs and the diminishing numbers of providers, after allowing John Edwards and his buddies to abuse the system. You can't have it both ways, although that is what John Kerry and John Edwards want.


Jim Bender






posted by: Jim Bender on 08.17.04 at 05:02 PM [permalink]


You seem off the Liberal reservation on "outsourcing". I'm curious as to why, when you toe the Liberal line in other ways (John Kerry being your guy and President Bush able to do nothing right, in your book).

The best thing about outsourcing to India is what it is doing for the call center and IT workers. My Indian friends have noted how radically the environment has changed in five years. It used to be difficult to place a phone call. Now, homes have fixed wireless CDMA service and middle class people all have cell phones.

More people can now buy cars, when they used to be reduced to public transportation.

Many of them will be able to "buy our stuff". Their attitudes are better and it is good for their country. Too bad that they are held back by endemic government corruption.

I guess we are helped by their flaws, as we might have trouble competing with a non-corrupt and competent India.


Jim Bender



posted by: Jim Bender on 08.17.04 at 05:02 PM [permalink]

I come from a family with a lot of tool and die workers and machinists and this story is just absurd. Starting with tool and die, which I know best, the demand isn't GROWING even by .9%. It's SHRINKING. It's all shifting to China or being done on computerized machines. As for machinists, if the companies were really concerned about shortages of machinists, they wouldn't have had massive layoffs of machinists a few years ago. As for the computerized jobs, well America has, in point of fact, produced a whole lot of computer degrees, showing that Americans rally do have a reasonable idea of what to train for. I doubt there's going to be a real "shortage" threre.
And as for plumbers, electricians, welders etc. They're skilled jobs, but they're not THAT skilled. If there really is a need for more of them, it will take a few years to train more of them, not a few decades.
I just find it ridiculous that people keep predicting that we're going to need many more people working in manufacturing, when the number of people working in manufacturing has been declining for decades and low skilled computer programmers can make almost as much as skilled machinists.

I'm sure that tool and die and machining is increasing a lot, but I'm equally sure that tool makers and machinists are declining.

posted by: Mike on 08.17.04 at 05:02 PM [permalink]

I think this article was written just for my family. I am a nurse and my dh is an electrician. We are clearly not living large here in upstate NY where manufacturing companies are closing doors and moving overseas (bye bye Carrier). My college educated Journeyman "A" electrician husband is frequently told to hurry things, do substandard work--"cobb it" and treated worse than an animal (where can construction workers use a bathroom or eat lunch? Hint: it's not in the company public restrooms and lunchrooms--whether it is 5 below O degrees or not).

As a nurse, we are at least expected and encouraged to give the best quality of care; new rules and policies everyday, more patients, sicker patients etc. Our reimbursement is nickel and dimed. Respect? Well, just today a patient asked me to watch his phone... A pain service doctor told me to keep my suggestions to myself, he is the big man, the third year resident doctor! (Nevermind he was undermedicating a cancer patient).

Do I expect government to solve these ills? Not at all. We just say "suck it up" be a "man"; be "professional." Otherwise these jobs will be left for the Mexicans, like many construction jobs are already down South. Illegal aliens: the other outsourcing. And all the smart economists will say, "these are the jobs middle class Americans have spurned and there is a great need for people to fill them."

I never expected to "get rich" on a nurse's salary, nor did dh expect it as an electrician. Even if he opened his own company, he would not expect to see a good profit for at least 5-6 years with the outlay in equipment investment. What we do expect to do is to practice our professions to our best excellence, learning new technology, keeping up with advances; becoming extremely competent. When the unions, companies and hospitals prevent that, then the government would have to step in because the public health and welfare would be threatened.

The other thing we expect is that our pensions will remain intact, that promises will be kept. (We no longer harbor the illusion that Social Security will be around). I know that is pushing a point of credulity but there must be accountability when it comes to pension funds.

So I've said my piece (first time on a blog).

posted by: LuceLu on 08.17.04 at 05:02 PM [permalink]

I'm a HVAC/R mechanic and it's the greatest job in the world. It's physically and mentally demanding, You work on different things in different places every day. It has also has giving me the skills to last a life time and i can fix almost anything mechanical.

posted by: jeff on 08.17.04 at 05:02 PM [permalink]

Good one, blame the lawyers and the evil regulations. As opposed to the greedy corporate executives that run up their salaries while abusing the system causing the need for lawyers and regulations. Blame the effect rather than the disease.

This is the same as all so-called labor shortages - it is a shortage of people with the skills they need willing to work for peanuts.

posted by: dand on 08.17.04 at 05:02 PM [permalink]

I'm wondering why no one has mentioned the role that unions used to play? Yes, there were plenty examples of graft, etc. But, when I was growing up in New England, having a "union job" was a big deal. It meant things like good wages and benefits, training opportunities, you could reasonably expect not to be fired for no cause. And, it meant respect. You had a beefy organization watching your back. You were not just a schmuck out there on your own. Some people may say unions squeezed the profits out of companies, but that argument doesn't really hold if you find acceptable an era where a CEO can make $20 million even when the company doesn't show a profit.

posted by: chuck on 08.17.04 at 05:02 PM [permalink]

I’m an economics student at a public university and I will finish school this upcoming year. I live with 3 other roommates. One leaves for Spain in 2 weeks and another who is dropping out of school. This summer I interned at a financial company, working with a financial advisor / stockbroker.

As a blanket statement university educations are becoming worthless because the people getting them have no idea WHY they are studying in the first place. Sure, med students know, engineers, and a handful of others know, but you should get my point. I had no clue why I was economics student for 3 years. The only practical skill I learned was academic discipline. But if I had done a more "relaxed" major I could have partied every night. The point here, expensive liberal educations are nearly worthless from an economic standpoint. I also realize college is a good chance to grow up. So I don't want college to turn into a giant processing plant for corporate america where all become boring drones and never learn to enjoy life. I’m just opposed to the way that these places of higher education try to teach me so few practical skills, cost so much, and have so little relation to a working world. Yah, higher education opens doors... but apparently no one knows what doors to open?

Schools need to start actively guiding students on career paths. I must have met with 10 counselors of whom not a single one could tell me what I could do with the majors I was considering. And the school pays these people? They couldn't even tell me what classes I needed to take in order to graduate. It was like walking through a forest blindfolded, bound, and stuck with Cheech and Chong as my guide.

On a systemic level I was also frusterated. Through my roommate who’s dropping out of school I have met people who have never finished more than high school. And quite honestly it’s not because they are stupid or unable to get further education, but rather they see no reason too. Some don’t own vehicles and most of them party every night. Few of them see any reason to work hard because they don’t need to. It is because of these people that I truly FEAR public healthcare and other government aid. This includes financial aid for students. One of these persons wanted to get a 2 year degree and in good faith applied for some financial aid to do that. I cannot confirm this beyond what he told me, but he later told me he dropped out and never paid for the classes. I asked him what he did with the money and he told me he had just spent it on his car and food. In other words, the going got tough and he took the money because it was easier. He also said the government either does not know, or does not care, because they’ve taken no action in over a year. [I had a few more examples but I decided to cut them out for the sake of length]

That story frustrated me, but I don’t burn down bridges. I think like a lawyer I guess, and I want the system fixed. Holding people responsible is great, trusting people to act morally is foolish, but rationally, we must continue rewarding those who work hard.

I am none to surprise that wages have increased so much in the skilled labor department. I consider it a backlash against "academia" whom have overvalued thinking as opposed to doing. I support working with your mind, but it needs to apply to something that is of value to others.

posted by: TJ on 08.17.04 at 05:02 PM [permalink]

> because employees aren't loyal. Employees aren't
> loyal because the companies aren't. Chicken, meet
> egg.

This isn't even close to being a chicken and egg situation. Not within 1000 lightyears in fact. During the period 1970-1985 employers exploited employEE loyalty in a cynical, brutal, and calculated manner, consuming the implicit goodwill that existed in many employer/employee relationships since the time of Bismark.

In so doing, they earned themselves a good chunk of cash and made themselves "more efficient". But the situation now is not "chicken meet egg", it is "what goes around comes around" or perhaps "fool me once..."

Perhaps those employers felt they had no choice in the 1980s; I dunno. But they might at least have paused just a tiny instant to consider why that implict agreement existed in the first place, and the conditions prior to 1880-1890 that caused it to develop.


posted by: Cranky Observer on 08.17.04 at 05:02 PM [permalink]

TJ writes: "I am none to surprise that wages have increased so much in the skilled labor department." They haven't. You have access to this info. Look it up. In the 70s, a skilled manual laborer could live a solid middle class family life with one income. That is hardly the case now.

Your friend's story sounds alittle funny. Federal Financial Aid goes directly to the school you are attending, whether it is a Pell Grant or a subsidized loan. After the money for your classes is deducted, the school then issues you a check, but it is only for the current semester. You never get all the money you may qualify for all at once. Your friend may move alot and the govt hasn't caught up with his address, but you can be sure it is a blot on his credit rating. In addition, there is a huge secondary market for student loans. So, the private sector is very involved in finding the people who owe on their student loans. Perhaps your friend received some scholarship money from some private fund that does poor recordkeeping.

posted by: chuck on 08.17.04 at 05:02 PM [permalink]

"unless they can guarantee that they can recoup that investment before that employee decides his employer-paid-for training could get him a better job somewhere else."

Well gee, that's where employee morale comes in. If you want your employees to stay, you find ways to encourage them to do so. After all, that's just a market force.

Personally I wouldnt mind a one or more year employment contract with my employer-provided training. That way not only would I get valuable skills, but I'd be sure of a job as a result.

Maybe I'm just crazy... but this sounds better than basing the labor market on expecting workers to gamble thousands of dollars of their money (that they don't have) on training for skills that may or may not be in demand in two or three years. Instead, employer gets a skilled worker, employee gets job security.

(Still waiting for the offshoring rush to provide the unemployed with all that worker retraining for all those new jobs we're going to get as a result. But at the moment, what jobs we're getting all demand out-of-box, immediately recent skills...)

posted by: Keith Tyler on 08.17.04 at 05:02 PM [permalink]

That is "Garage Businesses". Businesses that start out in the garage and blossom into multi-billion dollar corporations. These "dummies" that didn't finish college seem to start the lion’s share of small businesses.

I don't know if that's exactly true -- that non-degreed sociopaths are by and large the ones moving New Business -- though there is certainly more attention paid to these individuals and companies as a result. I imagine that this attention is not without help from the derision of Old Business, turning its nose up at these 'undereducated children'.

I've been begrudgingly tending to agree with sentiments that a college degree is now worthless, though that may be a largely technology-industry observation. I personally will not willingly approve of hiring a non-degreed individual, because I know and value the breadth and receptiveness that my college experience gave me. Somehow, though, the hiring world has largely devalued those qualities, and despite what the doomsayers said 5 years ago, those who eschewed college for the ground floor are not having a harder time looking for work -- many are even having a better time, because the 4 years the spent gaining experience is worth more to today's employers than the same 4 years getting a flexible and broadly exposed mind. The well-rounded are no longer employable.

What am I saying? I'm saying that thanks to vertical-minded hiring, short-sighted planning, and no shortage of envy between technicians and managers, that a 4-year degree is now an extremely risky investment -- not just of money (and debt) but also time. An entry level job today will have you in a better spot four years from now than a degree will.

posted by: Keith Tyler on 08.17.04 at 05:02 PM [permalink]

That's so funny!

posted by: tickling on 08.17.04 at 05:02 PM [permalink]

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