Only manufacturers can solve the manufacturing employment dilemma

No, this isn’t another self-help column. It’s not a “you can control your own destiny through blah blah blah” column either. Let’s say it’s a call to action — your action, your call.

Two schools at the University of Akron have job placement rates for their graduates well in excess of 90 percent. In computer science, it’s been stated that the main deterrent to continued enrollment growth of more than 20 percent is the lack of qualified and interested faculty. Some students are receiving job offers in their junior years, some even sooner. The engineering school runs out of available candidates for internships and co-ops long before they run out of companies interested in hiring them.

Why? It’s because these students have gained in-demand skills.

Good old supply and demand

Market demand is driving the curriculum at regional colleges and universities. There was a need for nurses a few years ago — a desperate need — and big hospitals ramped up their recruitment. Now, nurses are being let go from area hospitals. Dental hygienists were is short supply around that same time. Now, it’s tough to find a job.

It was recently reported that UA dropped 65 different programs due to a lack of enrollment. The school responds to market demand for certain skills. But it takes time. Today’s engineering students won’t graduate for another two to five years.

So, here we are as small and midsize company owners and executives lamenting the lack of skilled workers, wringing our hands because it’s difficult to find the trained people we need to maintain current production levels that were hurt by retirements and employee turnover.

Can we afford to offer minimum wage for entry-level and some skilled jobs, and then have sleepless nights because we can’t find people to pass the entrance tests? We complain to the state and federal governments, to the schools and expect them to solve problems that have been around for decades.

New normal

When I started my manufacturing career in the early eighties, another period of high unemployment, we had a hard time finding people who could pass the entrance tests. We paid the then minimum wage for those jobs, too.

The average manufacturing job in the U.S. pays $23 per hour. That’s average, so the high-skill, high-pay, long-on-experience worker pay is included. Poverty for a family of four is right about $20 per hour today. And we wonder why parents are driving their kids away from manufacturing jobs and into four-year degree programs that may lead to jobs that pay more and might be more stable.

So, here’s your call to action: Manufacturers, what will you do to attract talent? What will you do to fill your need for specialized workers? Can you afford to wait for the educators to catch up? Or should you be out there recruiting raw talent and training them on your equipment within your culture on your dime, and then pay to keep them as they get more valuable?