Severe Shortage of Skilled Factory Workers As Government Encourages Students to Pursue White-Collar Jobs

The government has encouraged people who once would have become skilled and valuable factory workers to instead go to college and work in white-collar jobs, contributing to a severe shortage of the skilled workers needed by manufacturers. The Washington Post reports today on this problem:

Unemployment hovers above 9 percent. . . . It is a platitude that this industrial hub, like the country itself, needs more manufacturing work.  But as the 2012 presidential candidates roam the state offering ways to “bring the jobs back,” many manufacturers say that, in fact, the jobs are already here. What’s missing are the skilled workers needed to fill them. A metal-parts factory here has been searching since the fall for a machinist, an assembly team leader and a die-setter. Another plant is offering referral bonuses for a welder. And a company that makes molds for automakers has been trying for seven months to fill four spots on the second shift. “Our guys have been working 60 to 70 hours a week, and they’re dead. They’re gone,” said Corey Carolla, vice president of operations at Mach Mold, a 40-man shop in Benton Harbor, Mich. “We need more people. The trouble is finding them.”

In recent years, government officials have depicted white-collar jobs for college graduates as the way to go.  President Obama has advocated sending every high-school graduate to college or some form of higher education, while denigrating training for blue-collar industrial jobs.  He has sought to increase spending on colleges, while slashing spending on more useful vocational education that could lead to work in manufacturing.  (See this July 10 New York Times story).  “High schools, moreover, would rather focus on helping children get into four-year colleges than preparing them for vocational pursuits” like skilled factory work.

This has stigmatized even well-paying blue-collar and factory jobs, contributing to a critical shortage of the skilled workers needed by U.S. manufacturers. As The Washington Post notes, as senior skilled factory workers are retiring, no one is taking their place, since “many of the younger workers who might have taken their place have avoided the manufacturing sector because of the . . . stigma of factory work.”  Our government’s prejudice against manufacturing and in favor of white-collar college degrees is causing serious harm to our economy. As The Washington Post highlights, “A recent report by Deloitte for the Manufacturing Institute, based on a survey of manufacturers, found that as many as 600,000 jobs are going unfilled.” One welder was quoted by the Post as saying,“A bunch of lazy Americans don’t want to get their hands dirty anymore.” “They want an office job.” Meanwhile, 12.8 million people are unemployed, many of them people with economically-useless college degrees in majors that teach few useful skills.

Growing government subsidies have encouraged colleges to raise tuition at a rapid rate, and to dumb down their courses to attract marginal students who once would not have attended college. Federal financial aid programs have helped cause skyrocketing tuition increases. Meanwhile, college students learn less and less with each passing year. “Thirty-six percent” of college students learned little in four years of college, and students now spend “50% less time studying compared with students a few decades ago, the research shows.” Thirty-two percent never take “a course in a typical semester where they read more than 40 pages per week.”  The Obama Administration also triggered tuition increases at some low-cost schools that teach practical skills by tightening the so-called 90-10 rule, which effectively requires those schools’ tuition to outstrip financial aid.