Yesterday, Workforce.com published a couple of stories I wrote about a persistent and difficult puzzle that confronts manufacturing in the United States: Factories are more productive than ever, but manufacturing jobs continue a steady decline. What can be done to get people back to work?
The agony for manufacturers is that they do have jobs — well-paid, interesting jobs. There’s just not enough skilled candidates to fill them. Shop managers point an accusing finger at the schools, which no longer teach the skills that factories need. Machine shops have become a rarity in the modern high school, and students have an appetite for computers that is matched by an antipathy for the factory. One study found that factory work rates dead last as a career choice among 18- to 24-year-olds.
One solution may be found in a new trend toward local collaborations between factories and schools to create custom-tailored jobs. Here’s how I start a sidebar to the story:
Permac Industries, a maker of precision parts for medical technology products and other fields, is perpetually short of workers to operate its lathes. So acute is the shortage for the Minneapolis-area firm that some production lines shut down on nights and weekends because there’s no one to work them.
A couple of years ago, the company’s president, Darlene Miller, had an idea. She likes to hire graduates of nearby Dunwoody College of Technology if she can get them. But competition for graduates of its two-year associates’ degree is intense, and the coursework includes skills that Permac doesn’t need.
She approached Dunwoody with a proposal for a partnership that would get Permac its technicians while offering people without much post-high school education a quick on-ramp to a decent wage. This is one of a new brand of college-industry partnerships that might eventually help the U.S. grow as a manufacturing power while creating jobs.