Wanted: skilled or trainable workers

Some manufacturers are hiring again, but having trouble finding skilled workers, reports the New York Times. The low-skilled jobs have been replaced by automation or sent overseas; most won’t be coming back. Many laid-off workers won’t be rehired because they don’t have the reading and math skills needed to learn high-level job skills.

Now they are looking to hire people who can operate sophisticated computerized machinery, follow complex blueprints and demonstrate higher math proficiency than was previously required of the typical assembly line worker.

Manufacturers say that “training is not yet delivering the skilled employees they need,” reports the Times.

Here in this suburb of Cleveland, supervisors at Ben Venue Laboratories, a contract drug maker for pharmaceutical companies, have reviewed 3,600 job applications this year and found only 47 people to hire at $13 to $15 an hour, or about $31,000 a year.

. . . All candidates at Ben Venue must pass a basic skills test showing they can read and understand math at a ninth-grade level. A significant portion of recent applicants failed, and the company has been disappointed by the quality of graduates from local training programs. It is now struggling to fill 100 positions.

Quickie training may not be enough to make laid-off workers competitive. In a Colorado Community College Systems study, adult students who completed a one-year vocational certificate barely raised their pay, while those who earned a two-year vocational certificate made substantially more. Those who completed an associate degree in applied sciences in manufacturing raised their pay by 84 percent.

I remember when the big auto plants near San Jose closed. Laid-off auto workers had great trouble retraining because many had very poor reading and math skills. Some took a very early retirement. Others scraped together a living doing fix-it work. Very few were able to retrain for a new job paying anywhere near what they’d made as unionized auto workers.

About Joanne


  1. Fast food companies remade their vending machines to eliminate the need for literacy or math skills. These guys need to do the same, rather than demand cheap imported skill. And we need to stop pretending that we can educate everyone.

  2. Creating the idiot-proof automated systems can be more expensive than just hiring a relatively few people who know what they’re doing.  If you’re not a chain like McDonald’s, the up-front investment isn’t going to go nearly as far.

  3. If it makes you feel any better Cal the pretense that “we can education everyone” was given up a couple of decades ago. The funding that goes with that assumption however has not been given up.

  4. If they want better people they can pay more money. That’s pretty simple, and they should quit complaining.

  5. Ex-Physics Teacher says:

    I’ve asked students to things as simple as measuring the dimensions of their books with a ruler in centimeters. Many didn’t yet know which side of the ruler was the centimeter side or how to align the ruler so a measurement could be made.

    Apparently years of formulating hypotheses and designing experiments don’t teach you that.

  6. Charles R. Williams says:

    Really? $13 is two times the minimum wage. If they paid $20 per hour they could get plenty of qualified applicants.

  7. Homeschooling Granny says:

    Paying employees more may be a viable option. It is also possible that higher pay would make the end product too expensive to compete with similar products made elsewhere.

  8. Creating the idiot-proof automated systems can be more expensive than just hiring a relatively few people who know what they’re doing.

    Only in the short run.

  9. When the process changes for a new product, you have to do it all over again. Smart people can handle things faster than taking a multi-year automation effort (with a strong possibility of large cost overruns or outright failure).

    Believe me, I know this happens. I’ve been in the middle of it quite a few times.