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Are American companies partly at fault for the skills gap and its contribution to continued unemployment?

Harold L. Sirkin, a senior partner of The Boston Consulting Group and a professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, wrote an op-ed that appeared in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Sunday saying that because U.S. manufacturers are unwilling to invest in even short-term training, the American economy long-term could be in jeopardy.

Sirkin offers a few reasons why jobs aren’t getting filled:

When the economy tanks, businesses don’t fill positions that aren’t absolutely essential, from the assembly line to the accounting office. Sirkin also says the uncertainty over the Affordable Care Act may be contributing to this trend.

Companies offer more overtime to existing employees, which Sirkin says is a good temporary fix, but they also don’t – or aren’t willing – to invest in training to fill high-paying manufacturing jobs, and that’s where the problem lies.

Sirkin writes, “For most manufacturing jobs, a two- to three-month training and/or apprenticeship program would suffice. There are plenty of bright young college graduates who can’t find meaningful work; many would jump at the opportunity to learn a skilled trade. If you fail to recruit and train them, the problem isn’t a skills gap, per se; the problem is management’s unwillingness to spend money on training.”

With the average age of American manufacturing workers in the mid-50s and American exports at their highest point in the last 50 years, recruiting, training and retaining talent will be key to keeping U.S. products rolling off the line and onto ships and the American economy rolling along.

Sirkin concludes by saying, “America’s manufacturing renaissance could stall if companies don’t have the skilled workers they need to meet customer demand and quality expectations. Training is fundamental to the process. Both government and industry need to make it a priority.”

Does Sirkin have it right? Why or why not?

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One reply on “Are Companies Partly to Blame for the Skills Gap?”

  1. It is true that over the last 50 years, companies have increasingly shifted the burden of education & training to public schools, esp. community colleges. It is also true that most companies express their ‘human skills’ needs on a much shorter time frame than the humans can acquire the skills. Witness the recent complaints of Wisconsin firms over the lack of capable weldors. A weldor right out of school is not sufficiently qualified. Where might they get the experience to become qualified?

    When Jacobsen was still in Racine, they paid the workers who became qualified to operate high end CNC machines a 5 cent/hr increase; there were no machines in the plant that required that skill level, so the firm didn’t really need the skills. Most workers saw this as a near worthless incentive. When Jacobsen purchased the high end machines, they couldn’t find anyone qualified to run them. Whether this result was fueled by the management attitude, and behavior, toward the hourly folks I can’t say. But the outcome did not help the company, the managers, or the workers.

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