NEW YORK (MainStreet) Are the old advertising slogans like "to get a good job get a good education" or " a mind is a terrible thing to waste" still relevant? Both urged people to go college educations. We now see the results - the Millennial generation is probably the most educated in human history - but its members cannot find jobs.
After all, how many humanities, communications, art history, and business administration majors can society absorb each year? How many social workers, zoologists, or anthropologists do we need? Is it not true that while these fields have double digit unemployment rates, occupations such as sewer pipe cleaners, woodworking machine operators, and locomotive engineers have unemployment rates that are less than half of the national average. Some are less than 1%!
During a White House Jobs Forum in 2012, Eric Spiegel, the president and CEO of Siemens Corporation of Germany, was a panelist. He said Siemens, one of the world's largest engineering and technology companies, has about 65,000 employees in the U.S.
He mentioned that his company opened America's largest gas turbine factory in Charlotte, North Carolina in November 2011. The new facility created close to a thousand new jobs. The plant sells turbines both domestically and for export.
He noted for the first time manufacturing these machines in the U.S. is cost competitive. This was not true in the past. But one problem they have is a "skills gap."
"We spend quite a bit of time and effort to train people to be able to do the kind of high tech work that you see in this gas turbine plant, a very automated process," Spiegel explained.
These types of factories may require fewer people on the assembly line, but they require more skills according to Spiegel. Siemens addressed this gap by replicating in the U.S. the apprenticeship system of Germany.
"We have about ten thousand apprentices - just for Siemens," Spiegel told the audience. "They go to local technical schools and community colleges. They work half-time for Siemens, they go to school half-time. We pay them and about 80 percent of those people end up working for us after three or four years. "
Spiegel noted that this type of program does not exist in the U.S., but it is routine in Germany. The company established such a program in Charlotte working with the local high schools, technical schools and community colleges to develop a trained worked force for the factory now and in the future. The participants earn while they learn.
He emphasized that while it is great to talk about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) courses for elementary school etc., in order to bring high paying manufacturing jobs to the U.S. now, it is necessary to focus efforts on training people to work in these plants. The average salary for these jobs is $70,000 per year in Charlotte, N.C. -- which would be a lot more in New York City.
What Spiegel said has been known for quite some time. The American educational system is geared toward an academic curriculum. While learning humanities is important for a college student - not everyone needs to go to college.
"In the United States we have told our children there is but a single road to knowledge and a good job," said Alex Tabarrok, the economics chair at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. He is also the author of Launching the Innovation Renaissance (TED Books, 2011). "Sit down, stay quiet, and absorb--do this for 12 to 16 years and all will be well. But lots of students crash before they reach the end of this road. They drop out of high school and then more drop out of college. Sit down learning isn't for everyone, perhaps it's not for most people."
"In Germany, Austria, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland between 40 to 70% of students opt for an educational program that combines classroom and workplace learning," Tabard noted. "Apprenticeships are accorded much greater respect. In Germany, 97% of students graduate from high school, but only a third of these students go on to college (about half the rate as in the U.S.) Are the Germans poorly educated? Not at all. We need to provide more roads to a practical and useful education that better fits the needs of diverse students with different learning styles and preferences."
--Written by Michael P. Tremoglie for MainStreet