Let’s get real about what we want in our new employees

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to attend a meeting of the National Council on Competitiveness in Washington, D.C.

The members of this august group are CEOs of large U.S. corporations and presidents of universities and colleges. They are not appointed by the U.S. president, but they advise him or her when asked.

At one of the panel discussions, the CEO of a well-known U.S. manufacturing company was loudly commenting on how universities were failing to provide today’s college graduates with the kind of training his company desperately needed.

He had many jobs open, but couldn’t find people to fill those jobs because they “…didn’t have the kind of training we need.”

He admitted he had no problem finding trained engineers, they paid them $40 to $45 per hour with full benefits. But universities weren’t helping with welders. They needed certified welders and couldn’t find enough. There were many hrumphs from other manufacturers in the audience.

An engineering professor asked him what the starting pay for a certified welder was at his company. Now standing, the speaker pointed his finger at the professor and said “We pay $14 per hour!”

The next question, which you could probably guess was, “If you paid welders $40 per hour, would you be able to find them?” The CEO responded with, “Of course, but I don’t have to. The schools should be providing us with trained, certified welders right out of school who will work for $14 an hour!”

I don’t know where this line of thought is coming from. First, universities don’t train welders, community colleges and technical schools do. Second, a certified welder requires specialized training, sometimes a two-year degree, passing a certification test and depending on the shop, successful completion of an apprenticeship process.

The cost for all of those is in the tens of thousands of dollars. Many people leave school with loans and debt.

Paying at $14 an hour is equivalent to about $30,000 per year without overtime, just above the poverty level for Ohio which is $26,000 for a family of four. So what the CEO really wanted and admitted to later was certified welders willing to work for that wage, not necessarily the best trained and skilled welders who command much higher salaries.

It does no good to complain about the lack of trained, skilled people when the real issue is the willingness to pay for those skills. If you can only pay entry level wages, then it might be the smart thing to bring in unskilled people and train them yourself, investing in your own work force.

It’s the best long-term strategy for you and your company. Have an open and honest discussion with the jobs folks about what are the real problems. They truly do want to help you and your company. It’s your tax dollars.

Make them work for you.

John Myers is entrepreneur-in-residence, director TA2 at the University of Mount Union.