I attended a presentation by Mary Owens at a local financial advisory firm. In her well-presented talk about the return of manufacturing to the U.S., she articulated a number of facts that got me thinking:
- Manufacturing was returning because North American fuel (read: natural gas) is now becoming cheaper than the combination of diesel and Asian labor.
- U.S. factories are utilizing the most advanced technologies.
- And last, we can put millions of people to work.
This is good news, right? I think so. But we still have a major gap in fulfilling the training that these factories need. She described quite succinctly these additional points that I have been thinking a lot about:
- Many industries are beginning to (re)grow, and they are using new technologies to do it.
- In many industries, employers can’t find “locked and loaded” employees who have the skills to perform the jobs they need filled.
- The current higher education and vocational system isn’t serving the employment needs of employers or job seekers.
Mary’s plea, as I understand it, is to invite the wealth community to invest in an educational system to feed these employers’ needs. I like Mary’s pluck. She is not the first to say it or practice it. It makes sense to see the need and fill it.
But … not so fast. Since writing about workplace apprenticeship a few weeks ago, I’ve continued to ruminate about these additional convergent problems:
- Trade schools and career colleges, while making a comeback, are not prolific enough to be a relevant source of fulfillment for these factory and other supporting jobs.
- Higher education has too many of the wrong students and isn’t coming close to fulfilling its pledge to any students or fulfilling its own historical role.
- Job seekers can no longer afford to create the debt that higher education is demanding.
- The public can no longer afford to support this Herculean effort in the form of needed government subsidies.
- Employers want to shift responsibility away from themselves and blame everything else—from schools to generational birth year, from government to parents.
If business wants “locked and loaded” workers, then where should it get them?
In his post, “How Education Is Failing To Serve Business’ Needs,” Mark Lukens discusses this very topic. His analysis of the raging debate about education not serving humanity’s need to think creatively is extremely relevant. To that point, I agree.
Then he says,
“If the education system is to serve the needs of business, then we need to start by asking what those needs are.”
Ugh. I cringe. Education should not be the bitch of business. Education should be its own system and its own reward. And yes, I agree, it should shift its focus to help us to learn the needed skill of creative thinking; however, I envision a world where we get to learn for a variety of reasons, at a variety of times, and not always for job skills.
This bears the question, “Where do we learn the skills needed for a rewarding job?”
The answer keeps pointing me to employers. If they are the ones with the needs and they want a consistent, customizable result, then it is on their shoulders.
I believe that it is time for a new model. A model of efficiency and fairness. Let’s take the burden off of higher-learning institutions and the public. Let’s take the financial burden off of the individual as well. Let’s institute a model that allows business to serve itself. The model would allow people with the right behavior profiles to enter into paid apprenticeships to learn the absolute needed skills, aptitudes, and values needed by the employer.
We have hundreds of years of history filled with examples of an apprenticeship model. The last 100-plus years have taken us off track and placed the “burden” elsewhere. I expect that employers are going to rebel against this responsibility. But when they see that it actually MAKES them money through efficiencies rather than turnover costs, possibly the whining will stop.
I envision higher education rebelling because it will see its head count retreat. But it is time to stop the churn of unsuccessful, unhappy, and broke students overfilling our colleges and universities. It is only in the last 50 years that “everyone” went to college. Now “everyone” doesn’t get a result. So let’s stop it.
If we are to get out of our current morass, grab opportunity by the nose, and get back to work, it is time for employers to see themselves as training organizations. Profitable training organizations.
The future of work is dependent upon it.