To the editor:
Companies do a terrible job of advertising for the jobs that Steven Malanga [“Dirty Jobs, Good Pay,” Spring 2018] describes. An average search online for a blue-collar job that starts at $50,000 a year will find ads with ridiculously specific requirements that often no one has.
Corporations have proved incapable of training new prospects. No one but the guy who just left the position has experience working specific machine X. If you want someone to fill the position, raise the salary, lower the number of starting requirements, and train people to do the job, rather than demand the ideal experienced candidate.
If American workers are lazy, so are American corporations. Job skills don’t just magically appear; it’s a company’s job to create them.
To the editor:
If a company wants valued employees, it will have to hire management that values those employees. I have seen eminently skilled workers quit out of frustration because, as they said, “There is no advantage to doing a good job and no repercussions for doing a bad job.”
It’s time once again to start promoting from the floor, rather than valuing a degree in business administration. I was lucky; I took night classes and moved into information technology. I would much rather be back as a tool & die guy, but nobody values a skilled blue-collar worker until they don’t have one.
Steven Malanga responds:
There is a considerable amount of truth in the notion that American companies—especially in manufacturing—haven’t done their best to recruit and train the next generation of workers.
Part of the problem is historical. The American high school movement of the early twentieth century produced secondary education second to none. The goal of the movement was to educate American students to prepare them for work in the new industrial economy, at a time when a solid high school education was enough to find a good blue-collar job. American businesses thrived for decades with the workers U.S. high schools produced. The pipeline of educated, disciplined workers that industrial firms enjoyed continued into the 1950s, when young men returning from armed-services duty proved more than up to the task of working on the factory floor, or in other skilled trades.
Today’s job market is much different. Many industrial jobs available in America require more than a secondary education. Companies have been slow to adapt their training and hiring. As I noted in a previous story [“Vocational Ed, Reborn,” The Shape of Work to Come, 2017], the former president of Siemens USA, the American arm of the giant international industrial concern, points out that in Germany, Siemens has some 10,000 apprentices working in programs to prepare for jobs in the country’s factories. Nothing like that exists in the United States, as far as I can determine. A study by the New York City Partnership determined that in Gotham, home to several hundred thousand firms, fewer than 1,000 businesses have apprentice programs.
Businesses are going to need to find a way to partner with schools, which have done their own poor job of adapting to the educational needs of trade employment, in order to prepare the next generation of workers. There are good models, including apprenticeship programs employed by Siemens here in the U.S., which I have described previously. But success requires that American businesses change the way they think—even as educators, students, and parents change, too.