Thursday, October 18, 2012

Does The US Really Not Have Enough Skilled Workers?

This is a topic that is related to something that was talked about in the last presidential debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. The moderator asked whether jobs in assembling electronics such as iPhone, iPad, etc. can be brought back to the US. You may read the responses on your own from that news link.

However, later on in the news article, this issue came up about the lack of industrial engineers in the US as one reason Steve Jobs gave for being unable to have such manufacturing jobs in the US.

There's another catch, and it's one that politicians don't like to talk about: China has many more skilled engineers than the United States does.

Steve Jobs, Apple's late CEO, brought the issue up during an October 2010 meeting with President Obama. He called America's lackluster education system an obstacle for Apple, which needed 30,000 industrial engineers to support its on-site factory workers.

"You can't find that many in America to hire," Jobs told the president, according to his biographer, Walter Isaacson. "If you could educate these engineers, we could move more manufacturing plants here."
Now this is interesting in the sense of timing, because last week, Science journal website published an interesting review of a book at attacks such a point of view and put the blame squarely on the industries that complained on such lack of expertise. The book is titled: "Why Good People Can't Get Jobs: The Skills Gap and What Companies Can Do About It." It was written by Peter Cappelli, a professor of management and director of the Wharton School’s Center for Human Resources at the University of Pennsylvania.

That's because the book resolves the vexing conundrum of how two conflicting narratives about high-skilled employment have coexisted in our national conversation. On the one hand, countless unemployed or underemployed workers with perfectly good skills, education, and experience are struggling through a severe job drought, many sending out hundreds of applications and resumes to no avail. On the other hand, employers (especially in technical fields) complain of great difficulty finding workers, citing serious gaps between the requirements of available jobs and the skills of the workforce. One company that Cappelli mentions didn’t find a single worker that it considered qualified among 25,000 applicants for a fairly ordinary engineering job. Employers and their organizations fault an inadequate school system that fails to prepare Americans and restrictive immigration laws that prevent employers from importing the skilled workers they need from abroad.
He wrote in particular about companies getting "lazy" in trying to not only hire someone with a potential to do an amazing job, but also the lack of patience in recruiting someone and providing adequate training.

The main reason that companies aren’t finding the workers they seek in an ocean of available ability, Cappelli believes, is that in recent decades, for reasons he explains, those companies have allowed their traditional human resources (HR) departments and training programs to atrophy. Another reason is that some complaining companies simply offer too little money to attract the people they want.

The current lack of adequately staffed HR departments, and companies’ refusal to teach workers on the job, have combined to produce what the book terms “a Home Depot view of the hiring process, in which filling a job vacancy is seen as akin to replacing a part in a washing machine. … Like a replacement part, job requirements have very precise specifications. Job candidates must fit them perfectly or the job won’t be filled.”
There's more, so you should either read the entire article, or get the book (which I intend to do). Now, wouldn't it be more interesting if reporters (or debate moderators) actually do their homework and read about these things way ahead of time before they ask politicians and CEOs such questions? I would love to hear these CEOs try to respond to what has been brought up in this book.

Interestingly enough, what industries seem to tend not want to do, those in Academia continue to practice such things. We seldom get postdocs who are completely compatible with the skills that we are looking for. So it is a given that we try to nurture and train them with new skills, so much so they become experts in those areas by the time they are done. This is one clear example on why certain organizations should  not be run like a business!



informatica said...

Jobs was maybe thinking in paying the same Apple pay in China to their workers...

informatica said...

Jobs said "If you could educate these engineers, we could move more manufacturing plants here". And what about wages and conditions? The same that in Chinese Apple factories????