In my June column, I described the magnitude of the skilled workforce problem and some efforts by industry and associations to overcome the problem. This month, I will talk about what federal and state governments are doing to help, and I’ll offer one simple, no-cost, government action that must be implemented immediately.
For example, on the federal level, the Energy Department, Labor Department and the AFL-CIO recently launched a national workforce development strategy for lithium-battery manufacturing. The $5 million investment will support up to five pilot training programs in the energy and automotive industries to train workers in an effort to bolster the domestic battery supply chain.
State governments are helping, too. For instance, the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund awarded $3.7 million in funding to help develop a talent pipeline in central Florida. The grant will help Valencia College in Orlando, FL, develop a new program that will train students to use robotics technology for semiconductor manufacturing.
One thing the federal government can do immediately—and at no cost—is to better promote the benefits of manufacturing jobs. A decade ago, the Labor Department called me down to DC to advise them on how to get the national workforce ready for the surge in jobs due to reshoring. In the Labor secretary’s conference room, I called for the department to stop being part of the problem and become part of the solution.
For example, I noted that the department liked to point out how wages increase and unemployment decreases as one’s level of education increases. On average, people with doctorate degrees earn more and experience less unemployment than people with bachelor’s degrees. Similarly, people with bachelor’s degrees make more and have less unemployment than people with only a high school education or less.
No argument there. However, the department’s statistics made no mention of people who have completed apprenticeships. That’s a shame, I pointed out, since there’s no doubt that graduates of apprenticeship programs make more and are more employed than people who haven’t. Indeed, many former apprentices go on to manage their own companies! As a result of that meeting, the Labor Department agreed to promote training and apprenticeships as valid alternatives to college degrees, and it does include apprenticeship data in its employment and salary statistics.
Only 5 percent of U.S. youths enter apprenticeships, compared with 60 percent in Germany.
Despite that small victory, the Labor and Education departments continue to extol the value of college degrees over other career pathways. It’s still common to see headlines such as, “Bachelor’s Degree Yields $1 Million More Lifetime Income Than a High School Degree.” I have offered to find all such federal webpages so they can be revised to include data on viable alternatives, such as apprenticeships and credentials. I repeat that offer today!
The problem with incomplete data is that it is cited by journalists, economists, politicians, universities, parents and guidance counselors. They, in turn, pass it on to young people, who conclude—wrongly—that a college degree is the only route to a good living. The manufacturing industry’s efforts to promote apprenticeships and credentials are drowned out by the continuing government promotion of degrees. How bad is it? Consider this: In the U.S., only about 5 percent of youths enter apprenticeships, compared with about 60 percent in Germany and Switzerland.
Germany has a large trade surplus, while the U.S. has a large trade deficit. Our wage rates are almost identical. The key difference is the trained workforce. Our lack of recruitment and training undercuts our competitiveness, driving the trade deficit and slowing reshoring. I encourage states and trade associations to make their own salary and employment charts that include the benefits of training. We would be pleased to help.
We cannot control the actions of offshore competitor nations. We have unlimited control over our domestic competitiveness initiatives, such as my call for government action. Let’s collaborate to support skilled workforce development and rebuild the U.S. manufacturing base. For help doing so, contact me at 847-867-1144 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Author
Harry Moser is the president of the Reshoring Initiative. His column will appear every other month, alternating with Austin Weber’s “On Campus.” Has your company reshored production? Are you thinking about it? We’d like to hear of your success or help you achieve it. With your approval, we would love to report on your successes or opportunities in future issues. Contact email@example.com.