President Obama visited E.J. Ajax and Sons in Fridley, Minn., last week to tout his job training initiatives. The metal stamper and fabricator works closely with Hennepin Technical College in Brooklyn Park, Minn., to take unskilled students and turn them into skilled employees for manufacturing companies. Obviously, in an economy with an unemployment rate that doesn't seem to improve from one month to the next, the current presidential administration wants to promote any program that may aid in retraining for jobs that are available and unfilled.
According to one article, the U.S. still has about 3 million job openings. Most pundits are pointing to a lack of training funds for expensive vocational programs and a general educational system that doesn't seem able to produce a new generation of workers with the math and reading skills needed to contribute immediately after being hired. Those pundits may be right, but waiting for the government to solve those problems is like waiting for the bus that just had its service route cut; it's not showing up.
Let's look at E.J. Ajax again. The business participates in the M-Powered project with Hennepin Technical College and other area manufacturers. Students start with 12 weeks of classroom learning, where they study math, blueprint reading, and safety skills, and then follow up with 480 hours of paid on-the-job training. (That's where the manufacturers pick up the tab.) After working for those 6 weeks, the students return to the classroom for a final 12 weeks of manufacturing-related training. About a dozen of Ajax's 35 employees currently are apprentices. Most stay on with the company after they have finished their education, but they are not required to.
Of course, it takes a great deal of coordination, communication, and management to establish such a program with a local vocational school or community college. (In all honesty, I can't seem to find the time or motivation to even put together an intern program for our publications, so I'm definitely not above criticism.) But for those who need a steady supply of skilled employees, this may be the best approach.
Sure, many cringe at the thought of trying to work with a local government institution, but any real success in developing an educational program to create skilled hires for manufacturing companies will be achieved only with a great deal of input from those same manufacturers.
Maybe the shortage that this country faces is less about skilled employees and more about skilled managers who can figure out ways to find the right employees and have them stick around.