To create jobs, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney wants to cut taxes on “job creators” and generally get the government out of the way. But many manufacturers around the country say the jobs are already there. What’s missing are the skilled workers to fill them. So is cutting the government out really the answer? In at least one case, in Charlotte, N.C., government incentives have paid off.
In the last 18 months, Siemens Energy, a manufacturing plant, has hired 770 new employees; 400 of those employees lacked machine-specific training necessary to create gas turbines in the newly expanded plant.
Rather than turn them away, Siemens brings in instructors from nearby Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC) so applicants can receive on-site, pre-employment training and product training for up to four weeks. The college instruction provides precisely what the applicants need: a nationally recognized career-readiness certificate and specified training in fields such as blueprint reading and applied technologies. Provided students pass, they can join Siemens for the full-time hourly position they applied for—without having spent a penny. (That’s thanks to a $1.2 million grant from the state, which funds the partnership).
“We couldn’t have done what we’ve done without them,” Pamela Howze, training and development manager at Siemens, says of the partnership with CPCC. “They’re an integral part of our success.”
On Friday, President Obama was in Prince George, Va., pushing partnerships like these. He’s asked for $1 billion in his fiscal 2013 budget to dedicate toward innovation in manufacturing. And for good reason.
The latest statistics show that 3.4 million jobs sit open and unfilled across our country, and that’s certainly not because of a lack of demand; it’s a lack of skill. When Siemens first opened its online application site, it received 1,200 applications in four days—so many that they temporarily had to shut the site down. Unfortunately, though, the large majority of those applicants weren’t adequately trained or prepared for the jobs they were applying for.
Long gone are the days of manufacturing plants as a city’s lifeblood, with staff eager to train new hires just out of high school. Just as technology as advanced, so have plants and the equipment used in each—which, in turn, requires a more specific, technical education. (Four CPCC instructors were sent to Germany to get certification needed to teach Siemens’ apprentices). Just because these plant jobs don’t require a bachelor’s degree doesn’t mean the U.S. education system should throw its hands in the air and ignore them. The Rick Santorums of the world, who lump “higher education” into one degree-granting thought and still divide our young adults into those who go to college and those who don’t, need to join the rest of us in 2012. As my colleague Kevin Carey pointed out last week, a high school diploma should not be seen as an end-all. It is a stepping stone, a prerequisite for entry into a training program, whether it be on-the-job like Siemens or in classrooms at an Ivy League university.
Obama was not a “snob” for encouraging our nation’s youth to pursue higher education, contrary to Santorum’s belief. Perhaps Obama is trying to reduce the stigma associated with technical, vocational, or career training. These options are too often associated with the “have-nots,” the students who couldn’t get into college or are not “academic enough.” That was 1975. Here’s today:
After the influx of applications at Siemens, officials told CPCC instructors what they were looking for: work experience with some evidence of higher-level thinking skills. After screening applications for keywords, such as “machinist” or “welding,” CPCC officials invited top applicants for pre-employment training. That, now, is the key to entering the Charlotte plant.
“We listen to what they need and we respond to what they need, rather than coming and telling them ‘This is what we can do,’” says Mary Vickers-Koch, dean of business and industry learning at the college. This approach, she says, is key to any fruitful partnership between business and community college. “We have to very flexible and very responsive to what the need is.”
Take, for example, a blueprint reading class. When officials noticed that applicants often lacked blueprint reading skills needed to pass a general assessment for employment, CPCC put together a weekend class to address the need. Ninety percent passed it.
Industry demands answered by community college resources, just like the partnership between Rolls-Royce and John Tyler Community College that Obama touted on Friday. By answering manufacturers’ calls for a skilled workforce, the United States is better equipped to keep jobs stateside and remain competitive in the global economy, Obama said. “I want to make stuff here and sell it over there.”