No math, no job

Weak math skills disqualify would-be workers, manufacturers say.

High school graduates applying for jobs at Tacoma’s General Plastics Manufacturing have to take a math test. The company makes foam products for the aerospace industry.

Eighteen questions, 30 minutes, and using a calculator is OK.

They are asked how to convert inches to feet, read a tape measure and find the density of a block of foam (mass divided by volume).

One in 10 pass the math test. And it’s not just a problem at General Plastics.

“Manufacturers are willing to train people about the specifics of their machines and technology,” said Linda Nguyen, CEO of Work Force Central, a partnership of government, business, education and community organizations that trains workers in Tacoma and surrounding Pierce County. “But they can’t afford to hire someone who needs to relearn basic math.”

Math teachers know their students will need math knowledge in the real word, writes Darren, a high school math teacher, on Right on the Left Coast. But he’s turned off by the story’s “drooling over Common Core Standards. Many teachers  ”doubt . . .  the so-called cure.”

Having students write about math isn’t a real cure.  Group work isn’t a cure.  Collaboration requires everyone have some background knowledge on which to draw so everyone can contribute.  I wouldn’t mind cutting a few topics out so we had more time to cover the remaining topics more deeply, but to insist on so-called discovery learning is an exceedingly inefficient use of instructional time.

Instead of trying to make math “fun” or “applicable”, perhaps we could consider instilling in students, or insisting on, some perseverance and a sense of responsibility, and maybe even some delayed gratification.

Employers would value those traits too, Darren believes.

Many students who slid through high school without really learning math enroll at community colleges with hopes of training for a job or eventually earning a bachelor’s degree. Placement in remedial math is the single biggest dream killer.

Workforce dropouts rise

Discouraged workers are dropping out of the workforce, masking the true unemployment rate. Only 63.3 percent of working-age adults are in the labor force.  Some enroll in community college — or graduate school. Others apply for disability or take early retirement.

Manufacturers are looking for skilled workers in Minnesota, but technical colleges have a hard time filling all the seats in manufacturing programs, even though pay averages $56,000 a year. Factory work has a stigma.

A skills gap? Try paying more

Manufacturers say they can’t find enough skilled workers for high-tech jobs, a “skills gap” touted by President Obama and challenger Mitt Romney.  So why not raise pay? Employers are offering $10 an hour to start — $15 with an associate degree — to people capable of running multi-million-dollar machinery.

Students at a Tucson community college can “sprint” to a two-year degree in one year. 

Skills gap is small, but growing

The “skills gap” — a shortage of skilled trades workers — is no big deal now — but it could be in the future, as baby boomers retire. The average high-skilled manufacturing worker in the U.S. is 56 years old.

Welding requires math and science skills that most job applicants don’t have, says a CEO whose company up-armors Humvees.

College is about learning, not just job training

Community colleges’ mission is learning, not just job training, a professor writes. No other sector of higher education gives low-income and working-class people “a legitimate shot at upward mobility.”

Short-term job training is growing at community colleges. In Minneapolis, laid-off workers can find good manufacturing jobs with 16 to 18 weeks of Right Skills Now training.

No math, no job

High-tech manufacturers are hiring, but many job applicants don’t have required math skills.

North American Tool Corp.’s Jim Hoyt has two openings right now . . .

“I’ll write a few numbers down, mostly numbers with decimal points, because that’s what we use in manufacturing, and have them add them or subtract them, or divide by two,” Hoyt says. Job applicants often can’t do the math.

Manufacturers are “growing our own” workers using a system of “stackable” credentials.

Mechatronics: It’s not your dad’s shop class

Virginia high school students will begin learning “mechatronics” to prepare for engineering tech classes in community college, well-paid jobs in high-tech manufacturing and possible transfer to Virginia Tech for a four-year engineering degree.

Making it in America

Manufacturing is coming back in the U.S., after a precipitous decline, writes Adam Davidson in the new Atlantic. However, manufacturing workers are divided between the highly skilled, who are in demand, and the quickly trained, who must work cheaply or be replaced by machines or Chinese labor.

Learn welding, get a job.

Neither a borrower nor a graduate be

Is fear of debt worse than debt itself? College students who borrow are more likely to go full-time and complete degrees.

Self-paced online tutorials followed by four weeks of community college classes are training jobless workers for manufacturing jobs at Boeing.

Where the jobs (and pay) will be

Where will the jobs (and middle-class wages) will be in the next few years for people without four-year college degrees? Retiring baby boomers will open up manufacturing jobs for male high school graduates. Women will need a certificate or associate degree — preferably in a health-care field — to have a shot at earning at least $35,000 a year.

Also on Community College Spotlight: To provide realistic training in restaurant work, a college culinary arts program has opened its own bistro.