Last week I spoke with Harry Moser, chairman emeritus of GF AgieCharmilles LLC, the machine tool company. He will speak at the upcoming FABTECH expo in Chicago about his Reshoring Initiative. Moser has developed Total Cost of Ownership Estimator software that breaks down the costs and risks of outsourcing production overseas.
The idea has caught on. Moser was featured on the cover of IndustryWeek, and just before our conversation he was on the phone with a reporter from National Public Radio. The broader public, he said, is beginning to realize how valuable manufacturing is--and its comeback may help overcome the economy’s most obvious problem: high unemployment.
We’ll be covering Moser’s reshoring initiative in an upcoming print edition of The FABRICATOR, but Moser also touched on another problem: that elusive skilled worker. There aren’t enough of them, a painful truth our readers have lived with for years during good and bad economic times.
Moser offered a fresh perspective. GF AgieCharmilles’ Swiss parent organization has benefited from Switzerland’s apprenticeship system. Swiss teenagers follow one of two paths. Some attend university and the others start apprenticeship programs in various fields, from accounting to precision machining and metal fabrication.
They think college can be incredibly valuable, but it isn’t the only path to success. If you want to be a doctor, a chemical engineer, a biomedical researcher, or a professor, then sure, university is for you. But numerous professions, they feel, don’t call for a college education. Not going to college doesn’t imply you’re not intelligent. This attitude about college somewhat resembles the U.S. system 60 years ago, when fewer went to college, and fewer professions required a college degree.
Could this attitude work here again? I don’t think so, at least without better public secondary education. But what gets me is that even in our good public high schools (and they are out there), college is looked upon as the only way to success. If you haven’t already seen the documentary, “Waiting for Superman,” watch it and you’ll know what I mean.
How much college education do people really use in their careers? Higher education has become extraordinarily expensive, so I think the question is worth asking. Sure, I wouldn’t want surgeons to operate without an advanced education. The same could be said for various scientific and engineering disciplines, among other professions. But over the years I’ve interviewed plenty of savvy business owners in this industry, and not all of them have college degrees.
Two-year technical schools are an option, and they have turned the ship around for many students underserved by American public education. But a two-year technical degree seems to remain a second choice, a path for students who can’t get into a four-year college. Why shouldn’t such a technical education be a first choice?
Our education system isn’t entirely dismal. Certain high schools are educating children very well. But these top-performing institutions seem to be preparing kids for college--and only college. Many in manufacturing would kill for these well-educated, motivated individuals. They don’t’ all have to go to college. Apprenticeship programs--led not by academics but by experienced professionals--may help bring education closer to what industry needs.