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Shortage of skilled workers I agree with Brian Varley on his comments regarding the state of manufacturing. I dare to guess that Brian is a 20-plus year veteran of American manufacturing like myself. He is dead-on when he talks about the manufacturing sector not wanting to pay for the skills they require.
By Staff September 10, 2003

Shortage of skilled workers

I agree with Brian Varley on his comments regarding the state of manufacturing. I dare to guess that Brian is a 20-plus year veteran of American manufacturing like myself. He is dead-on when he talks about the manufacturing sector not wanting to pay for the skills they require.

My story begins when my previous employer relocated to a colder climate and I chose not to go. When beginning my job search, I posted my resume on the net (20 years experience, Masters degree, PE, CQE, the list goes on). Anyway, I was getting quite a few hits and eventually got some interviews with prospective companies. Most companies were impressed with my experience level and thought I’d be a good candidate, but the salaries were a joke.

They would want you to run 4 or 5 million dollars worth of projects, work 50-55 hr a week, have virtually no support group, design electrical, mechanical, and do project management, etc. I would reply, “Sounds good, that’ll be $80k a year.”

After hearing my salary requirements, they would look at me like I was from the planet Mongo or something. “What? $80k? This position pays $55k.”

I would leave shaking my head and think, “Good luck finding someone with the skills you require at that salary. Maybe you can find some college graduate to do it.”

Then I’d go to these job fairs and the advice I would receive was usually, “You may have to settle for a lower salary, given the state of the economy.” Settle? Wait a minute. I don’t see the prices of cars, TVs, or new homes coming down. Why should I have to settle? I’m the one with the skills these people need. $55k a year is $26/hr. I just had my house painted. Labor worked out to something like $22/hr — to paint my house! Get real. $80-$90k is a bargain.

Fortunately, I was in a position to wait for the job I wanted.

Everything worked out and I am now employed by a very good company, and I enjoy my new job a lot. (Oh, and by the way I work in the quality department — not manufacturing).

But it really blows me away at what the manufacturing sector budgets for their skilled work force. I think a reality check is way overdue. I have worked for companies where the hourly workforce easily made $50-$60k a year (they got paid overtime; salary folks didn’t).

But if the hourly guys are making $60k, what should I be getting? $80k, $90k, $100k a year? That kind of salary is almost unheard of in the nonmanagement ranks of manufacturing.

So let me tell you what is going to happen.

People like me and Brian are simply not going to put up with it much longer. Most likely, guys like us will eventually get out of manufacturing altogether.

Why work a 50-hr work week for $50-$55k a year when you could be a teacher, and have the summer off, or sell insurance, or manage a McDonalds? (I have friends who were in technical fields and are doing exactly these jobs right now).

You read where all of the manufacturing jobs are going to Mexico, or American manufacturing is going down the tubes. Well that’s only half the story. There will always be some kind of manufacturing in the States (let’s hope so anyway).

But what there will be is a lack of those high-paying manufacturing jobs of the past.

You are already starting to see a whole generation of manufacturing folks working for 8-10 bucks an hour. You can’t buy a $25,000 car on $10/hr, let alone a $100,000 house!

It’s sad really, but there is no way I would encourage my kids to go into engineering or manufacturing. The money (and the all of those less tangible rewards, like being appreciated for a job well done or respected for your years of experience and knowledge) simply aren’t there anymore. — R.C. Andreas

While National Association of Manufacturers proposals will be of some benefit, if ever enacted, they are 30 yr too late.

Also, I think they are wrong, and this is yet another thrust to import cheap labor from overseas rather than retrain existing labor because of the perceived cost.

Funny how we find money for immigration lawyers, but we don’t have any money to retrain 40 or 50-something engineers.

The key tenet of labor relations is that unions are a reaction to bad management. I would say this also applies to manufacturing and the “lack” of skilled workers. You can’t stand outside Southside High School in Pittsburgh and entice students to drop out and come to work at USS in the ’60s and then decry the quality of your workers in the ’70s and ’80s.

You can’t hold school districts hostage for tax abatements and then complain they don’t provide the training you need for your employees.

Finally, colleges and universities are being extremely shortsighted if they provide only the specific, specialized training that the current big dog in town wants. Their students will be ill-equipped for the next job if that’s all they know. Or did we suddenly convert to employment for life?

Colleges need to continue to provide a strong and wide background so that the graduates are adaptable to the changing work scene.

If you need electrical engineers fully conversant with a particular brand of products, then you need to invest the money for training after you hire them. Proprietary training is not the job of the university. Preparation to use that training should be the goal.

I’d like to think I’m part of the solution. I am a region officer in SME Region 7 and work with NAIT on accreditation of manufacturing and technology programs. — Steve Dunn