Jobs and Our Future Workforce, Part One

I grew up in a company town.  Copper was king and our little town, and other little towns throughout Arizona, depended on one company.  That business also owned the supermarket and the hospital and company houses. You could get a job with just a high school diploma.

Of course, when the copper mine played out and the price of copper dropped, the company closed the mines and the smelters.  Which, of course, was a near-death knell for those towns.  The employees had nowhere to go for jobs, especially low-tech jobs.

I bring this up because in my parents' generation, you did try to get a job in a good company and maybe stay there until they handed you your gold watch at retirement.  Those days are long gone.  Most of our students today will have multiple jobs and maybe multiple careers.  Being flexible and nimble and keeping up with technology may be the key to future long-term employment.

For now, there's what is being called "a skills gap."  From Bloomberg:
“Some big companies have closed and left devastation, but it’s inaccurate to say there aren’t opportunities in manufacturing,” he says.

Unskilled assembly-line work has been replaced by so-called advanced manufacturing jobs that require some computer, information technology, or other technical knowledge. In Detroit, Louisville, Grand Rapids, Mich., and other manufacturing hubs, many employers can’t find workers with those skills.

Over the next decade, 3.4 million manufacturing jobs are expected to become available as baby boomers retire and economic growth spurs work opportunities, according to a 2015 study by the Manufacturing Institute, a Washington-based think tank, and Deloitte LLC. But a skills gap could result in 2 million of those jobs staying unfilled. Workers are most lacking in computing and technical skills, as well as basic math and problem-solving, the study found. More than 80 percent of 450 U.S. executives surveyed said the gap will affect their ability to meet customer demand, and 78 percent said it will make it more difficult for them to use new technologies and increase productivity.
I mention manufacturing because, as any adult knows, every kid is not going to college.  Some of that has to do with opportunity/money but, some of it is about kids who don't want to go.  It was always difficult to hear philanthropists tout getting 100% of kids to college because it was so unrealistic.

But I'll also throw in this article from The Fiscal Times:
“I think we are going to see shortages across the wide spectrum,” Hine said, including jobs that don’t require college degrees, such as home health aides, personal care assistants and restaurant staff.

“These are the jobs that people are getting worried about, are noticing are going unfilled. But they’re not well-paying,” he said. “And they don’t provide a good, stable income and career opportunities.”

When hiring was difficult, employers gave multiple explanations for it. In 2013, for example, Minnesota manufacturers said two-thirds of all their openings were hard to fill, but that only 14 percent of positions remained open purely because applicants didn’t have the right education and training.

Instead, most employers had a hard time filling jobs because of a mix of factors. A lack of applicants with the right skills was one reason. But there were many others, including location, low wages and undesirable shifts.

“The job is not that specialized,” one manufacturer said of a position it had trouble filling. The problem was finding someone willing to live in a small town and work long hours for low pay.
Ya think?
The surveys also found that the qualification many employers wanted most was prior work experience in a similar role.  They wanted to hire someone who could be fully productive on day one. But at the same time they weren’t willing or able to pay enough to attract that perfect candidate.

Pressure from a shrinking labor force should spur companies to recruit more widely, lower their requirements and make their jobs more appealing. In Mankato, which has a 2.8 percent unemployment rate, employers are doing more to recruit underemployed immigrants from Somalia and Sudan.
One interesting story - about retraining comes from CNN Tech, The Coal Miner who became a Data Miner:  
Now the third-generation coal miner gets her adrenaline rush sitting indoors on a soft swivel chair, fixing code on a computer screen. The 33-year-old is a data scientist currently doing a paid residency at Galvanize in Austin. 

"While I was working as a coal miner, I taught myself to code on the side as a guilty pleasure," said Evans. 

Every Friday afternoon, she would sit in her office and teach herself Visual Basic, the only language she had access to. She wrote code to automate some of the more tedious parts of her job and let it run overnight. She practiced programming in her downtime for five years. 

At Galvanize, she took part in a 13-week program and learned about natural language processing, recommending systems, Python and data science. Now she's doing a full-time paid data science residency at Galvanize, helping teach new students, while she looks for her next job. 

Ideally, Evans is looking for a position as a data scientist and Python developer, or data scientist and business analyst. Those skills are in high demand in industries like healthcare, finance and startups that rely on algorithms. The starting salary for a data scientist is around $110,000, according to Galvanize. Evans says she'll make about the same amount as she did at the coal mines, but the lifestyle change will be a huge improvement.
So, for a middle-class life, it looks like students will have to have more than a high school diploma, even if only a specialized technical certification.  How do we get there for those who don't want to go to college?  One way is CTE (Career and Technical Education).   OSPI has a whole section on it.
Why should students who barely have an opportunity to explore the arts, health and fitness, or social studies, be directed to courses in aerospace manufacturing, horticulture, financial math, sports medicine, or integrated science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)? 

The answer to the above questions, we believe, is that CTE offers a unique opportunity to engage students in an enormous variety of subjects, incorporating academic, creative and technical skills, with the specific goal, nowhere else represented in education, of preparing students for all of life that comes after high school. 
There's even Running Start for the Trades.

But then there is this one glaring issue - definitely in SPS but probably most districts.
Career and academic guidance resources vary from school to school and district to district, so we encourage all 7th, 8th and 9th graders to seek advice from:
  • Your school advisor or your school career or guidance counselor
  • Your school career center or your district CTE office
Right there in black and white - guidance counselors.  The district doesn't have near enough of these and yet they wonder why CTE courses are underenrolled (and then they cut funding to some parts).  Kids need adult guidance on this issue and it has to come from schools.  Where are those counselors?

The Atlantic looks into CTE in this article, The Need to Validate Vocational Interests:
Obviously, the counterargument here is the largely touted maxim that people with college degrees make more money than those without them, which is statistically true. But this idea is misleading: Crushing student-loan debt increases yearly and ethnicity, class, and gender factor into salary levels, regardless of education. And low-income kids can become “targets for diploma mills that load them up with debt, but not a lot of prospects.”
In Kentucky and other states around the U.S., dual-credit programs and community-college initiatives receive quite a bit of attention, and although I am not suggesting that these programs are unnecessary, I do believe it is important to be intentional in the creation and execution of such initiatives to avoid perpetuating biases and tracking students onto paths that do not empower them to capitalize on their strengths. While many states and policymakers are increasingly promoting post-graduation alternatives to college, many of these efforts are half-baked or seemingly based on the premise that such alternatives are for students who aren't good enough to go to college.
Important to note:
As much as parents, educators, and school systems proclaim the importance of a college degree, according to Gallup, only 14 percent of Americans believe that college adequately prepares students for success in the workplace, and only 11 percent of business leaders agree that college graduates are adequately prepared for the workforce. But like the university president I listened to at the recent conference, 96 percent of chief academics officers at colleges and universities are confident that they are preparing students for job success.
Indeed a recent survey of high school students by Youth Truth found this:
1.  Most students want to go to college.
2.  Only one in two students feel academically prepared for college.
3.  Students find support services helpful - but most aren't using them.
4.  Feelings of readiness vary widely across schools.


Anonymous said…
So business believes this: only 11 percent of business leaders agree that college graduates are adequately prepared for the workforce.

But then they require a college degree to apply for many jobs. It used to be you could work your way up if you were motivated. That is no longer true, at least at the places I have worked.

Anonymous said…
It's very difficult to get a job as a data scientist without the required educational background in math, statistics, data modeling, SQL and OOP. I was able to do it because of basically being immersed in the industry from the onset of the industry. Everyone was basically learning and once you know which formulas to use and when to use them the math requirements mean very little.

Not many people could get their foot in the door these days without very good skills and at least a couple of years of formal education.

The new guys coming in with the required prerequisites paid a lot of money to a few prestigious colleges for information available to anyone with a computer and willingness to put in the effort to learn. You just have to be able to get past the gate keepers.

IT guy
Eric B said…
There's another pretty significant problem--ability to pass drug tests at manufacturing businesses. I saw a recent story about several heavy industrial plants in the Midwest that had open jobs because 20%+ of the people applying failed drug tests. It's another place that the opioid epidemic has hit.
Ghost Mom said…
So many formerly accepted rules of thumb are no longer valid. It's not a good idea to stay at the same company and work your way up. States no longer subsidize as much of the cost of college so students have to pay for way more of it themselves, which makes it an unwise gamble for many. Preschool costs more than college in Washington state (and many other states), but there are no 529 plans or college scholarship programs for parents to pay for preschool. The whole idea of employer-based health insurance (and "group" policies) no longer works with employees shifting from company to company to climb up the ladder instead of working their way up within one company. By 2021, 9.2 million Americans are predicted to work in gig economy jobs. How are our new workers going to pay for health insurance and maternity leave and preschool and a mortgage and a vacation? So many countries assume their citizens want to get an education, pick up the skills for a career, have a relationship, establish a home and raise children. They set things up to make that possible. In the U.S. we seem to pretend that none of these things are the case.
Ghost Mom, and Part Two is about the gig economy.
Anonymous said…
Govt paid health insurance should be seen as a condition of national security as it assures us a flexible and innovative work force.

Patrick said…
Ghost Mom, thanks for pointing out that preschool costs more than college, I wouldn't have accepted it without doing the calculation. It's true if you include childcare from age 1-6 as part of preschool. There are free childcare options for working poor parents, but it's a pretty low cutoff.
Lynn said…

You don't have to compare the cost of five years of preschool to four years of college. Last year's tuition at the UW was $10,753. This year the cost of attendance at a City of Seattle preschool program is $10,173. That's pretty close to equivalence and unsibsidized preschools often cost more.
Anonymous said…
@Lynn-- Childcare/preschool in Seattle 10 years ago cost us $15,000 per year. It was not a home based program, but a center in the central district. It was half of our income at the time & the city did not have a subsidized program that we were aware. The other half of our income went to rent & food. Rent was also much cheaper back then, but it was still a struggle paying for childcare.
Anonymous said…
@ Lynn-- P.S. I was quoting our after tax income. Childcare is $21,600-$26,400 per year now. Yikes.
$10,173 seems very low for Seattle, unless it is a home based daycare or less hours.
Lynn said…
That's the cost of the city's preschool program for a family with income at the top of the income scale. It's just preschool, not 8+ hours per day, 12 months a year child care.
Anonymous said…
Yikes, JK. Why would a household pay half their yearly income for childcare? Seems counter productive unless both parents are very anti staying at home with their kids. Is that the case? Otherwise, one parent could stay at home if an entire income of one would go to childcare.

Per the city scale cost of pre-k a family that can currently afford to live in Seattle will be paying over $1500 a month for the City Pre-K program. It is not affordable, and likely not the best option for their kid as the city program seems to be all about screen time and tests vs. the most appropriate learning for a young child.

Families that can still afford to live in the city of Seattle will also be educated enough to know that the brain development of their child will not be best served by screen time. As an example, look at the children enrolled in Waldorf schools and their parents. It is all unregulated play and the discovery and expansion of ideas and discovery such curiosity brings. These are wealthy, often high-tech parents that understand that a brain on free rein vs. the brain chained to the screen is most likely to take leaps to new realms.

The current City Pre-K is just another lie to chain brains to their least potential. It seems that our current city council and the mayor want to groom a voting populace most likely to follow their agenda without thought vs. aid in raising a generation that will question or bring forth ideas of their own.

Missing Link
Anonymous said…
@missing link - every situation different we had one parent working full time and other working weekends and school full time days. I imagine a single parent would also need full time childcare and be in a similar situation.
Anonymous said…
I work full time, always have, so my kids were in daycare (nanny share), preschool and then private Kindergarten. Most of my salary has gone to pay for these items. Now it is paying for college. I work in a field that is not kind to Moms or Dads who leave the workforce and then try to return. That is the main reason I kept working.

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