The wheels are coming loose

Five years ago, I asked, "When will the wheels fall off?" Well, they haven't fallen off, but they are getting loose-and for different reasons than I anticipated.
By Richard L. Dunn, Editor July 1, 2000

Five years ago, I asked, “When will the wheels fall off?” Well, they haven’t fallen off, but they are getting loose-and for different reasons than I anticipated. They’re getting loose not so much because of a lack of investment in our plants but because we’re rapidly running out of people to keep them going.

Five years ago, it was clear that the knowledge and skills levels of our workforces was one of the problems. Today, it is THE problem.

If you don’t want to take my word for it, take a look at the latest data from an American Management Association (AMA) study:

  • 41.7% of manufacturing job applicants have basic skills deficiencies

    • Over 38% of all job applicants lack the necessary reading, writing, and math skills to do the jobs they seek

      • In 1999 the share of skills-deficient job applicants was up from 35.5% in 1998 and 22.8% in 1997.

        • Ellen Bayer, global human resources practice leader for AMA, advises, “For all the concern about the shortage of high-tech workers, we are facing a lack of job applicants who can read and write. Companies are going to have to find new ways to staff themselves with qualified workers. They are not going to be able to rely merely on selective hiring to achieve their goals-they will have to invest more in training new hires and current employees. In many cases, businesses are going to be compelled to develop rather than hire workforces.”

          The AMA study simply confirms what I’ve been hearing for many years. Virtually every plant engineer I’ve asked has complained about the problem of finding and retaining qualified workers. And for at least the next several years, there is no relief in sight. Even if our public education system jumps on the problem today, it will take a number of years before those youths enter the workforce. For new workers coming out of secondary schools and even colleges, improving those basic skills is clearly up to industry.

          The role of basic educator is one that industry has long sought to avoid. It’s expensive, and it’s hard to put a number on the return on investment. But for some plants, the education of workers may become a matter of survival.

          It’s time to become active and involved in workforce education.