08 September 2011

The Skilled Labor Gap

This posting continues a discussion of the role of education and training in helping to create a skilled workforce -- earlier discussions can be found here and here. Policies to foster skilled labor are a central element of innovation policy.

My position -- still being formulated -- is that a problem exists for the simple reason that companies cannot find skilled workers and yet the ranks of the unemployed is high.  Part of the reason for this skilled labor gap is that we in the educational community (yes, I'm part of the problem) are not paying enough attention to the real world skills that employers want and need. Instead we are either focused on creating idealized "knowledge workers" or implementing some theoretical conception of a good education (usually where skills are devalued as compared to the sorts of knowledge that professors have).

Have a look at this article from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal on the skilled labor gap.  Here are a few excerpts:
Even as thousands of Wisconsin manufacturing workers remain unemployed, companies are worried about a lack of skilled labor. Some manufacturers say they've lost business or face stagnant growth because they can't find qualified help.

Often there's a disconnect between people who are out of work and companies struggling to fill factory jobs that require advanced skills such as reading blueprints and programming computer-controlled machines.

"I worry more about that than I worry about competition from China," Rauscher said.

Statewide, 31,000 job openings were posted at Department of Workforce Development employment centers last month, including thousands of openings at manufacturing plants. Yet the state's unemployment rate remains stubbornly high at 7.8% as of July.
Manufacturers are finding it difficult to find workers with even the most basic of skills:
Availability of skilled workers is a top concern of manufacturers. With Indiana, Wisconsin has the highest concentration of workers in the manufacturing sector in the nation, according to the Center on Wisconsin Strategy.

While he was at Bucyrus, now owned by Caterpillar Inc., Sullivan moved about 125 welding jobs to Texas because he couldn't find enough people locally with the necessary skills. Show up with the right credentials, and companies such as Karl Schmidt Unisia Inc. could offer you a job on the spot, according to the Marinette maker of engine parts.

"We don't need rocket scientists. We need people with basic technical skills who know how to use tools, work with their hands and make something happen," said Ron Kadlubowski, director of machining technology at Karl Schmidt Unisia.

The company has grown from 250 employees in 1985 to more than 900 now. Currently, Kadlubowski said, it has dozens of openings for skilled machine operators.

"We have so many openings now, it's amazing," he said. "If you come in with a basic skill set, and you don't have some rotten work history, you are going to get hired. And other companies in the area are hiring people left and right. The hard part is finding someone who looks encouraging."

One problem in addressing the skills crisis is a lack of basic math skills, manufacturers say.

Many job applicants can't answer the question "what is one half of one half," Rauscher said, and they can't measure something to a fraction of an inch.

"How are you going to get a workforce together when people lack those basic skills? It's pretty pathetic," he said.
What about more vocational training in public schools?  Here it seems that employers and university educators have different views:

Some blame the public schools for not preparing students for manufacturing careers.

Sullivan favors restoring a "dual enrollment" program that Wisconsin had years ago, where high school students could take classes at technical colleges and get credit toward their high school diploma as well as technical school.

"It's not a jobs crisis that we have, in my opinion. It's an education crisis," he said.

There's a huge gap between high schools and the world of work, Golembeski said. "Young people aren't getting work experience early on. The jobs they used to do are now automated or have been taken by older workers."

Often, schools can't afford to create workshops that have factory machines costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

And some schools place almost no emphasis on manufacturing-career skills.

"Students come out of high school with no technical training and no practical skills, including how to measure something with a caliper scale," Kadlubowski said.

Vocational education has its critics, including Robert Lowe, a professor in the department of educational policy and leadership at Marquette University.

Historical data shows that students who took vocational education classes often ended up in jobs they didn't train for, and it didn't give them an advantage in their career earnings, according to Lowe.

"When you insert vocational education into a high school, you are basically saying that is going to be the destiny for a certain sector of the population. And it just doesn't fit all that well. There's been a mismatch that goes all the way back almost a century," he said.
The skilled labor gap is a national problem.  Here is another example from Dayton, Ohio:
. . . Rob Baker, manager of Behr Thermal Products’ Dayton plant. He said he needed 55 production workers immediately, but was having trouble finding candidates who could pass a drug test, read at an 8th-grade level or were willing to work eight hours a day on their feet.
The Behr jobs available are unskilled positions with starting hourly wages of $11.65, he said.

“We really need to have a conversation with businesses,” said Steven Johnson, president of Sinclair, which since 2009 has served 4,600 workers who lost their jobs in the recession.

“We’ve basically given up on finding skilled workers,” said Steve Staub of Vandalia’s Staub Manufacturing Solutions. He said he has taken to hiring former auto technicians from Walmart who are reliable and are willing to train to perform his company’s work.

He said he tries to follow the advice of Iams founder and area benefactor Clay Mathile: “Hire for attitude and train for skill.”

Bill Linesch, human resources vice president for Premier Health Partners, said Premier has 500 openings for a wide ranges of jobs and a hunger for reliable workers.

“Our No. 1 reason for termination is absenteeism,” Linesch said.

Derek Maddox, a deputy for operations at SAIC’s local offices, said he has 50 openings in computer science and engineering and hardware engineering. But as a defense contractor, he has additional requirements that make finding the right people even tougher.

“All of my employees must be U.S. citizens and they must be eligible for a security clearance,” he said.

The problem isn’t getting easier, said John McCormick, a senior principal with Heapy Engineering, a Kettering mechanical engineering firm.

“As technology advances, we require more and more skilled workers,” he said.
The skilled labor gap raises some difficult questions about public education, the government's role in supporting (or even undertaking) skills training and even immigration policies.  From where I sit such a conversation has not yet been fully engaged, particularly in the modern university, where we remain blissfully ignorant of the skilled labor gap.

29 comments:

  1. I think it's weird that the guy in Wisconsin says he doesn't need 'rocket scientists'. It seems like such a person would know how to read blueprints, write and run software for a machine and do math.

    It sounds a 'rocket scientist' is exactly what he needs!

    I think the flip side of the coin is that the people with those types of skills (college grads with science and engineering degrees) are just not willing to do those jobs for the pay. Their parents (mostly dads) likely had similar propensities for the actual skills involved, but not the college pedigree which might mean they were more eager to take lower paying jobs.

    But the issues that some firms in the stories highlighted above were claiming, like absenteeism, are new to me and definitely odd. Without reference to what was being asked of those particular employees, it's hard to gauge if that is a an employer or employee problem, however.

    This is becoming an interesting series of posts.

    Thanks.

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  2. -1-Maxwell

    I didn't include this excerpt from the MJS story, but it is worth highlighting:

    "Some companies, such as KHS USA Inc., of Waukesha, have started apprenticeship programs in conjunction with technical colleges. The four-year program at KHS includes one day a week of paid classroom training for the first two years, and four days a week on the job.

    Students learn how to service complex packaging machines used in the food and beverage industries. It's the "Maytag repairman on steroids," said Mary Mercurio, director of human resources at KHS.

    The technicians can earn between $75,000 and $110,000 a year, as the jobs are demanding and require travel and customer service skills, Mercurio said.

    "These jobs are some of the highest-paid positions in the company. The people we have don't want management positions because it could lower their income.""

    It just may be that the conventionally college educated are not going to be the ones with the greatest salary potential in the future.

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  3. My wife, a former educator, and I have this discussion often. The very nature of "No Child Left Behind" suggests that ALL people are essentially born with identical abilities and potential. Nature and history would argue otherwise. Our education system is doing a grave injustice to society by trying to prepare all students for post-secondary education when the majority of high school students are simply unwilling or unable to attend AND finish college, either for financial, social or other reasons. How many people now in their 30s are looking back wishing that high school had prepared them for a high-paying technical job by focusing more on real-world technical skills and less on Shakespeare? (Not that I have anything against Shakespeare!)

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  4. I am not at all surprised by the math skill gap issue identified by some of the employers in the story. FOr many years my wife had a store and we employed students from the local HS. We had the class Valedictorian. She was very reliable, patient with the customers and kept herself busy. However, she could not do simple mental arithmetic like determining the price of an item that was price $X per dozen or reduce the price of an item by 25%.
    The issue is certainly not one of capability but attitude, practice and expectations.
    I do think that we do our HS students a disservice by not making them aware of the consequences of their educational choices - the simplest being the starting pay by college major or pay differences among various technical and non-technical jobs.

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  5. I am a bit of an odd bird. I have a Ph.D. and own a small business that employees mostly hourly wage workers. Since our business is a bit of a niche specialty, we essentially do what one of your commenters above does, hire for attitude, train for technical skills. Prior to owning a business, I worked for a company that did manufacturing and employed a number qualified machinists and prior to that, just out of graduate school I worked at a government lab.
    So from my perspective, I've been on the inside of the education ivory tower and on the outside where working class people earn a living.
    I'd like to make a couple of comments. Manufacturing is a demanding occupation and mass production, low cost manufacturing is probably the most demanding of all. There is no margin for error in what they do. In the past, a machinist may have operating one machining center. With CNC controllers driving most machining centers these days, that same machinist has become a manager of several machines that run more or less autonomously. He or she may do a bit of programming (but that's been automated too) but these folks are keeping track of the quality of parts produced, making adjustments as necessary or checking or changing things as they wear. If you look at the value of what they produce for each hour they work they are some of the most productive (and talented) people in the world. The question then is, where the heck did that person come from?
    In the area I live and work (near the nations capital) the primary and secondary education system is geared almost exclusively toward college prep. Our county does have a vocational or technical high school but its a very small part of the school system. Most people I've seen in manufacturing positions seem to get their training at a 2 year technical college of some sort and many of these are public institutions. They are not common in the Mid-Atlantic but you see them in the MidWest or the South where much more manufacturing is done. (The company I was with previously would hire from some of these schools.) The technical schools I've visited in the last few years have a basic equipment kids can train on and some even have some of the latest and greatest stuff out there. The reality is, if you can master how to make stuff on the basic stuff, you'll develop the additional skills to operate the really fast stuff in an very efficient manner once you start working for a private company. One other thing, as far as reading blueprints to, nearly every designer I know these days designs in 3D and its not at all difficult getting a sense of the design when it well rendered and in a form ready to be accepted by the machine its meant to be processed in. You tend to look at the 2D drawing more for the notes which specifies materials, tolerances and such things.
    From my perspective, the 2 year public technical colleges do a great job of training people for some of those jobs that go begging. The problem is that there are not many of them. Another problem is one that they were often established long ago and the industries that their curriculum was designed around may no longer be viable where the colleges are located. Roger, if you are interested in speaking with people at colleges that train people for making things, I have a few contacts that I can share with you offline.

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  6. In the UK we used to have an 11+ exam, at which point you divided into clever ones going to grammar schools and less clever going to secondary moderns. The syllabi I believe were different, with much more emphasis on vocational skills in the secondary mods.

    That early essentially practical division was done away with in the seventies as being unfair - one exam determines your life. Hardly anyone went on from secondary mods to further education.

    Five years ago I was looking at Swiss schools as I was moving out of the UK, and was startled to find they have the same system, in spades. If you 'fail' your 11+ you go to a school where carpentry and metalwork feature highly. They saw nothing unfair in that.

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  7. maxwell said... 1

    It seems like such a person would know how to read blueprints, write and run software for a machine and do math.

    A CNC operator needs basic algebra and geometry skills.

    When I went to school basic drafting was taught in the 7th grade as part of wood shop. Algebra and geometry were taught in the 9th and 10th grades. One of my friends dropped out of high school in the 11th grade and managed to get a job as a CNC operator making rocking chair feet. He had poor reading and writing skills but his experience in woodshop taught him about angles and radius's and such. (Tactile learning).

    Today he would be doomed to run the french fry machine at McDonald's as schools don't have wood shop anymore.

    I would posit that the traditional labor pool for skilled manufacturing and construction work is people who struggled with book learning.

    Of course there is no one in Academia that isn't good at book learning so it's hard for academia to conclude that our educational system needs to do more to accommodate tactile learners.

    My sister teaches 'developmentally challenged' children and has a heavy emphasis on tactile learning. Of course it's a huge difference between being 'poor at book learning' and being 'developmentally challenged'.

    The school system where I live only offers two educational tracks...University bound or 'developmentally challenged'. There is a huge chasm between being trained to collect shopping carts at the supermarket and being trained to do well at University.

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  8. Roger,

    'It just may be that the conventionally college educated are not going to be the ones with the greatest salary potential in the future.'

    Sure, but that was always true.

    Kevin Garnett of the Boston Celtics (went from high school directly into the NBA) had a much higher 'salary potential' than 99.99% of college graduates, but that doesn't really tell us much about how to change the educational system at the college level such that we're filling these jobs either.

    One company's incentives for people to take jobs that are hard to work not due to skills, but due to what is being asked of the employees isn't really that informative. The post itself highlights the fact that basic skill level jobs are left unfilled even though those jobs have pay starting at $11.45 an hour. That is likely a more common scenario in which employees are not asked to travel extensively and service custom machinery.

    The 20-year old who had the propensity to develop the skill set necessary to become a productive machinist with on the job training at the more representative manufacturing job is more likely to go to college and seek higher paying employment with a degree than 15, 25 or 35 years ago. This is partly because a college degree is not only monetarily incentivized, but also socially incentivized.

    That 20 year-old's parents didn't go to work everyday so that their kid wouldn't go to college. And once the kid gets into and, hopefully, finishes college, his/her mind changes about whether to take a $11.45/hour job.

    What would have old man Pielke said if you had said you were not going to college? My father (also a prof.) told me to my face that in such an instance he would consider himself a failure as a father.

    Needless to say, I stayed in college and finished by the skin on my teeth.

    So I don't necessary disagree with your statement. Some people without college degrees will make comparable amounts of, if not more, money than people with such a degree. But it's really hard to extrapolate to a trend with respect to this point with an N of 1. And it also seems incomplete to focus all of our attention on financial incentives. Social capital and status play big roles in how people view the utility of a college degree.

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  9. What about if it's not the lack of skilled workers... What if it's a lack of skilled workers [who want to work for $11.25/hr][Travel long-distance][work odd hours][relocate][etc] or any combination of the above.

    With skilled labor, the cost element on a budget line has a huge impact on the marketability of their products, no? Their competitors are global, and they can generate these laborers of minimum standard quality, while still be able to expect all of the above out of them without having to provide for more than a minimum standard wage/benefts system.

    If US companies do that (a) they'd get sued or protested, and (b) they wouldn't find a lot of workers. If they raised their offering packages, they would cease to be able to compete on the market. Can you really say that there'd still be a shortage of quality workers at any one of these companies if they paid 100K/yr Base SALARY (WITHOUT travel), had employer matched 401Ks, etc. etc.? If not, perhaps it's not a shortage problem.

    But, I agree that vocational curriculum is not valued in school systems; and I wish it were for my own sake. There's lots of people in America that are doing it the "Home Depot" way instead of hiring plumbers and dry-wall hangers-- and I want to be one of them!

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  10. To Salamano,
    Skilled manufacturing workers, those that keep the automated systems humming along smoothly, are likely making between $25 and $40 an hour. I think their biggest issue is that they are very narrow specialists and that there may be only 1 or 2 companies in the area where they live that might employ them commensurate with their skills and their productivity potential. If their company goes belly up or changes direction, it likely hard to find the same kind of work without relocating. A college educated person, even in a technical field, will have more flexibility if a job or career change is needed.

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  11. It would be interesting to track down how many skilled welders Bucyrus laid off in 2009.

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  12. Roger,

    Thanks for the very interesting Dayton story. My take, as one who has worked at golf courses, was a full-time lawyer and am currently a combination lawyer/lender & landlord is that everyone needs to prepare for several careers. The world changes too fast for most people to expect to work 10-30 years at one job. Rather workers need to learn how to be flexible and plan on changing jobs several times over the course of their work-life. In such a situation, traditional education (whether vocational or academic), while useful will not be adequate to prepare the students for a lifetime of work. It is more important to have a competitive nature, a strong work ethic and intelligent flexibility. This is not easy, but for most people, it is a necessity.

    JD

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  13. I taught HND Software Engineering in the UK. I quit because none of the students in the last year even applied for jobs. There was no point, they were no more capabe of doing real world software engineering than playing for Manchester United.

    I spoke to the guy responsible for the assessments in Scotland at a meeting. He admitted that his students couldn't do them without cheating. I called him a nut job (I knew him personally) and I called the other people at the meeting fantasists because they wanted to teach object oriented programming when they couldn't do it themselves. There are far too many silly, ego driven people in this business.

    Cheating is totally rife in British education, it's a race to the bottom. Come here and we will give you a degree for spending thee years doing assignments and you virtually cannot fail.

    I have had recent personal experience at Glasgow University (59th in the world) with myself and a young friend, both of us experiencing very dodgy practices.

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  14. eric, You need to explain how HND compares to programs in the US. I would say that in technical fields it used to be the equivalent of a 2 year good technical school program. UK engineering companies used to depend heavily on HND programs to equip their techs with more formal training.

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  15. The two actual hourly wage examples would seem to highlight that it is impossible to make a decent living in Wisconsin via a blue collar manufacturing job.

    Even assuming an average housing price of only $120,000 - an $11.65 or lower hourly wage isn't enough to buy a house, much less raise kids and is barely enough to afford a car.

    Why then would anyone take on the significant time and money investment to be able to perform these types of jobs - especially since there probably is not even job security or health care benefits?

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  16. Khan, Have you ever met a payroll or run a business that employed people? If you have then you know that an expectation of "job security" makes no sense in a free market economy. In Europe it has led to distortions in labour markets and turns employees into fixed costs when markets/demand for goods can vary widely with resulting inefficiencies in labour markets.
    I ran a company that employed 30 plus people for 25 years. All told we probably employed over 200 different people in that period. In 25 years I fired about 5 people for poor or unprofessional performance. We let another 5 go in various efforts to reduce costs or become more efficient. In short people ex post facto had pretty good "job security" - but I never ever promised or intimated that there was job security. We worked on client projects with some pretty big swings in revenue. In soft markets we worked hard to ensure that good people stayed and as many owners do, we did not draw a paycheck to ensure that employees got paid.
    "Job security" follows from providing a relevant product or service, efficiently and competitively. Government organizations can "promise" job security because that can control revenues through taxation backed by the threat of coercion. However, this will ultimately lead to catastrophic failures rather than smoother adjustments - as will soon be demonstrated with changes in the US Post Office.

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  17. I went through a public education which included mandatory shop & home economics classes for everyone - regardless of what career path they might take. This was 7th and 8th grade - middle school. My friends from that era, who no longer use their hands to make a living, acknowledge that they learned valuable critical thinking skills when they had to learn how to use a tool, and then complete a project. I think critics often mistake teaching through making as solely vocational. A shop class can in fact prepare someone to move into a career of making, but it can also prepare someone to think sequentially, and to learn how to prioritize, and also how to be reflective on their craft - whether they be a woodworker or a wordsmith or an engineer. Limiting a young person's potential by categorizing them into groups of "makers" and "thinkers" - as if they were separate activities - is problematic. As educators, do we really assume that students choose a career path based only on the earning potential? Many people choose a career which requires the equal use of head and hands because they find it satisfying. We shouldn't exclude that kind of learning experience because we think know where the jobs will be in the next decade or two - because we don't.

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  18. Roger,

    having studied various elements of education from childhood development to business theories, I think this whole discussion is missing many crucial elements. While I don;t agree with all of this article, it does address, more strongly than I would, the disconnect between those that believe we just need to "reform" the system by dealing with first order problems, and those that think we need to look at what actually motivates people to learn.
    http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2011/sep/29/school-reform-failing-grade/

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  19. Clemenceau: War is too important to be left to the generals.
    Pielke?: Education is too important to be left to the professors.

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  20. I find this post fascinating. I agree with many of the posts following the article but matthew hincman @17 in particular.

    I would apply this logic to music and the arts as well. Learning to play guitar in middle school not only got me chicks but also inculcated a tangible sense of achievement (maybe because it got me chicks, or maybe chicks are some kind of feedback mechanism that spurs further achievement). While certainly not viable as a skill to earn a living, the underlying lesson learned was that if I worked hard and applied myself I could expand my skill and close the gap between the idealized vision of myself (awesome guitar player) and my actual self, making it reality. This led me to a sense of competence that has since transferred to other non-musical endeavors.

    I think society and the education system recognizes that this sense of "competence" or self-esteem is a very good thing but goes about developing it in the wrong way. Pandering to kids, telling them they're great no matter what, not letting them fail and not actually teaching them how to do anything that actually makes them feel competent or economically relevant (there are many who are saying this is adversely affecting boys especially).

    Trying to insulate children from feeling bad about themselves hasn't created people with good self-esteem, it's created narcissists. I recall a study in the 50's where they asked 12-14 year olds what they wanted to be when they were older and the answers were: "Fireman!Policeman!Teacher!Doctor!" When they redid the survey recently the most common answer: "Famous".

    P.S I'm not some geezer lamenting that "yungins ain't got no respect!" I'm 30.

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  21. Menth:
    Well put. Such wisdom and so young! ;}

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  22. Menth,

    I certainly agree with you that universal praise for everything a child does is quite counter productive, but that is not what concerns about self esteem actually relate to. In my teaching experience I have over and over again encountered a strong tendency among many adults and children who believe that they cannot learn something that they don't understand right away. This has been a MUCH bigger problem than the narcissistic attitude you are referring too, though I have seen things that resemble that as well. To me the key is being supportive and giving valuable information that does not do the work for them. I do not shy away from pointing out "mistakes". if they are clearly mistakes I often "make fun" of the person to counter act feelings of stupidity that seem to be ubiquitous in our society. I am very careful to be honest, but I make it clear through humor that I really don't care if they make mistakes as long as they are learning. And many times, what they see as mistakes are actually just the process of understanding how to do something, and it is vitally important that they understand the difference between that reality, which is unavoidable, and repeating actions that have been clearly established to be negative. My job is to help accelerate the learning process, which sometimes means encouraging "mistakes" or interrupt patterns that inhibit learning, especially destructive emotional patterns. People usually appreciate my teaching because they trust that I am honest and not just "trying to make them feel good" but also that I care about their progress and I am invested in them achieving their goals

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  23. Very interesting posts, here some observations:

    The bulk of better paid jobs is in knowledge intensive parts of the economy which requires university degrees (no matter what practical skills)

    There are cultures where apprenticeships still have their place and are socially regarded with esteem (like Switzerland or Germany). These are 3 year programmes with very low pay. At the end the worker will be well trained and has career prospects within his profession and company. However, leading positions in the economy will be taken by knowledge workers. Switzerland cannot fill its top positions with Swiss people (many Germans take these up).

    Students at my university (UK) tend to go on a placement year ('internship') in their third year. This increases their job opportunities after graduation. When I spoke to their managers in these companies about required qualifications, they usually replied that no specific skills were needed, just motivation, commitment and above all... an ability to communicate (verbally and written). But universities (at least in the UK) seem to think (perhaps Roger as well?) that the curriculum should be more 'applied'...

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  24. Bernie said:

    "Khan, Have you ever met a payroll or run a business that employed people? If you have then you know that an expectation of "job security" makes no sense in a free market economy. In Europe it has led to distortions in labour markets and turns employees into fixed costs when markets/demand for goods can vary widely with resulting inefficiencies in labour markets. "

    Yes, actually I have employed people, and employ people now.

    If you would only drop your ideological stance, you might reread my post to understand that I did not say jobs should be secure.

    What I said was: Why would anyone work for $11.65 an hour when that wage won't allow you to buy a house, raise a family, or even buy a car. If you don't even have job security, it makes an already difficult proposition worse.

    As an employer - I fully understand the dynamic of how paying people less makes for better business.

    As a human being - I fully understand that the people I employ have their own dreams, goals, and needs.

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  25. Khan:
    I never said, suggested or thought that paying people less makes for better business. It clearly depends upon the value the employee creates. Similarly, my interest in my employees goals, dreams and needs was very much constrained by their relevance to my ability to run my business. Sure if someone wants to go to school to study a work related subject, you should try to do a flex schedule - but equity among employees concerns quickly limits how flexible you can realistically be.
    You are right, if you are earning $11.65 there are few places in the country where you could buy a house. But for a single person without dependents $11.65 amounts to $24K per annum. w/o overtime. If that is your pay rate, you may have to live at home or share an apartment/house with others. It is certainly enough to afford a good used car. Clearly having a family should be predicated upon one's abililty to support them and is not the responsibility of an employer.
    If you are worth more than $11.65, an employer will quickly adjust you salary to reflect your value to them or you can find a better paying job. That is how labor markets work.

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  26. Bernie,

    Isn't is possible that high demand for a position could entice the hirer to lower the salary offering, and still get people that will do an adequate enough job? There are a lot of man-power / labor-intensive jobs out there where the feeling I get (at a management level) is that more or less such a large slice of the potential applicants are going to be 'good enough' such that the one who is willing to work for the least brings the most value to the employer. Labor markets can also work like that too, right? (particularly in a down economy?)

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  27. @bernie

    "You are right, if you are earning $11.65 there are few places in the country where you could buy a house. But for a single person without dependents $11.65 amounts to $24K per annum. w/o overtime. If that is your pay rate, you may have to live at home or share an apartment/house with others. It is certainly enough to afford a good used car. Clearly having a family should be predicated upon one's abililty to support them and is not the responsibility of an employer."

    I quite agree, and note again I've not said that it is the employer's duty to ensure a living wage for his employees.

    bernie: "If you are worth more than $11.65, an employer will quickly adjust you salary to reflect your value to them or you can find a better paying job. That is how labor markets work"

    Again, no disagreement here.

    I would note, however, that we both know full well that there are plenty of jobs in both the manufacturing and service sectors which simply have no upward path out. That entire tiers of labor are basically permanently stuck at these low levels, which in turn mean that anyone with a modicum of intelligence in these tiers has no real incentive to work beyond basic survival.

    In home senior care, for example, requires responsible, caring, and capable caregivers. Yet the economics of this equation yields at or near minimum wages for caregivers.

    For my part - I do not point the finger at employers. The reason living wages have gone up so much in this country is due to the tremendously increased role of FIRE; this is the problem that must be addressed.

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  28. Prof Pielke,
    Your original point was the disconnect of the university from the real employment world. Are you going to take this further?

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  29. Khan,

    FIRE? Finance, Insurance, Real Estate or what?

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