Who Should Provide Training for Manufacturing Jobs?

According to a piece in Community College Daily, more American community colleges are expanding to include training for manufacturing jobs for high school graduates.

Such programs, while not exactly new for community colleges, do represent an expansion of the jobs training part of such schools. Is this really the best way to working class people to obtain good jobs, however?

According to the article:

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The new $8-million advanced manufacturing center opened by [Washington state’s] Everett Community College (EvCC) last month is one of many such centers created by community colleges nationwide to respond to a growing need for trained factory workers.​

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The new center is expected to help close a significant skills gap in the area, due to a huge wave of retirees expected at Boeing and other companies, while new workers will need more advanced skills training.​

The article presents this development as part of a trend.

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That’s a story shared by other community colleges who have recently opened similar centers or are planning to do so.

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“It’s absolutely on the increase,” Nicholas D’Antonio, program manager for student and youth engagement at the Manufacturing Institute, said of the number of advanced manufacturing centers opening at public two-year colleges.​

This seems to address several concerns of interest to those involved in the future of American labor.

In the first place, American companies have long complained that they’ve had trouble filling positions for good manufacturing jobs because high school graduates lack the skills needed for such jobs. While the accuracy of this is somewhat debatable (labor research indicates that there’s a general shortage of demand for labor; companies don’t have a harder time filling high-skills jobs than low-skill ones) they’re right to point out that they have trouble finding such people to fill positions, even if it’s not impossible.

Another trend addressed here is the difficulty of finding good working class jobs. High paying manufacturing jobs were responsible for widespread American prosperity in the last century. That, together with the power of labor organization, was the way a few generations of men bought houses, saved for retirement, and sent their kids to college.

Airplane

Progressive have bemoaned the death of these jobs. But this article shows that they still exist. They still pay well and it’s still possible to get these kind of jobs. The article says that the EvCC program is driven by an expansion in manufacturing jobs in the area. More specifically, however,

Much of that expansion is due to the production of new 777X planes at the nearby Boeing plant, which is having a ripple effect at other aerospace companies in the area, including Zodiac Aerospace, Aviation Technical Services and Primus International.

And 90 percent of students who earned a the manufacturing certificate had a job in 30 days.

Still, despite the article’s glowing attitude, it’s not that specific. The situation in Washington is impressive, but does this represent a common situation, or an exception?

This sort of training represents an exciting opportunity for some, but it’s not exactly a national trend of which all people can take advantage.

The number of people employed in manufacturing jobs fell from 19.6 million people in 1979 to 13.7 million in 2007. We lost another 900,000 jobs due to the Great Recession. Manufacturing represented 27 percent of GDP in 1950 and only 11 percent in 2009.

The second question is if this is really the most efficient way to go about providing such training. It may be true that “community colleges nationwide” are responding to a “growing need for trained factory workers,” but is it really best to get that training in an academic setting?

Boeing, for instance, is a corporation with a long history in Washington state. During World War II, according to John Gunther’s monumental survey of the country, Inside U.S.A., some 12 percent of Boeing employees had criminal records. They damn well didn’t go to college to receive advanced training in the industrial arts. No, Boeing just hired people off the street because it was in desperate need of the labor, and trained the people itself.

And that’s what’s really going on here. The worker training is serving Boeing, for sure. According to the article, however, one college got a $800,000 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Advanced Technological Education program and another school got a $3.5 million TAACCCT (Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training) grant to pay for the manufacturing training. It’s a lot of federal money, and the American taxpayer, who pay it for training. The Boeing contribution is not recorded.

That sure sounds like a pretty good deal for the company. Complain about how your business wants something, and then get someone else to cover the cost.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer