Labor Day 2019

Stephen DeAngelis

September 02, 2019

To most people, Labor Day represents the end of summer. It’s a time to take one last deep breath of warm air and bask beside the pool in preparation for the colder days ahead. The holiday was established, however, to honor the contributions of working men and women to the American economy. As the U.S. Department of Labor website explains, “Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.” Despite dire warnings that artificial intelligence and automation are going to make massive numbers of workers redundant in the years ahead, we are currently enjoying low unemployment rates and companies are scrambling to fill millions of positions.

Many of those positions remain unfilled because employers can’t find people with the right skills for today’s increasingly technical work environment. As a result, the Trump administration has asked “companies and trade groups nationwide to commit to expand programs that educate, train and reskill American workers from high school age to near retirement.”[1] The National Association of Manufacturers President and CEO, Jay Timmons (@JayTimmonsNAM), notes, “Manufacturers face a workforce crisis with more than half a million unfilled manufacturing jobs today and 2.4 million jobs that may go unfilled by 2028. But manufacturers are also problem solvers and committed to being part of the solution. So today, manufacturers proudly make this pledge to the American worker: we will continue to invest in our workforce and provide 1,186,000 Americans with the opportunity to receive training and development that will enhance their skills and prepare them for the next step on their career journey. This is manufacturers demonstrating that we are keeping our promise to invest in our people. The men and women who make things in America are the backbone of this economy, and it is our commitment that America’s manufacturing workers will have the opportunity to learn, grow and take on new challenges.”[2]

Paul D. Ericksen, an industry consultant, is skeptical of the latest promises out of Washington. He asks, “Aren’t these the same employers that are unable to budget much for training under current OEM source selection practices? And aren’t these same trade groups that have been talking about the subject for years (decades?) that haven’t really been able to move the needle on this issue? So it seems a little hypocritical to me that the White House would make their pronouncement relying on the same resources that haven’t — with the exception of isolated successes — been able to deliver results in this area.”[3] He goes on to note, however, that moving the needle is critical. He writes, “Workers — from both the factory and office — should expect to have to retool their knowledge and skills at least once during their working years. Those who resist will no longer be able to compete in a changing economic climate.” Although he believes past government efforts to train and reskill workers have been uneven at best, Ericksen optimistically writes, “Governmental support and engagement can have a positive impact on employee skills and company results.” He draws his optimism from a state financed program in Georgia called Quick Start. He writes, “Quick Start provides current and new employees training so that they can effectively fill today’s higher tech jobs. And the workforce training — provided through an employer — is at no cost, as long as that employer is creating new jobs.”

Adrienne M. Selko (@ASelkoIW), Senior Editor of IndustryWeek, writes, “Sometimes all of the pieces fall into place. Of course, this doesn’t happen by accident or in a short period of time. Take the advanced manufacturing sector of Georgia. Currently, it’s producing $6.1 billion in goods while employing 270,000. However, part of the foundation of this success has been in the making for 50 years. That’s when Quick Start, its unique workforce program, began.”[4] She goes on to discuss how a number of companies have taken advantage of the state-financed program to upgrade their workforce. Selko notes, “Part of the speed at which this organization works is tied to its knowledge base. Through the process of developing programs that use the latest technology to help companies train their workforce, Quick Start has secured in-house expertise in a number of areas in manufacturing.” This ensures the skills taught in the program match the requirements of industry. It’s a match made in heaven. Selko explains, “[Quick Start conducts] a pre-employment assessment of all students and then provides them with twenty hours of classroom work and 20 hours of hands-on work. After that, the applicants are rated and can then be given a job offer.” The most important thing about the program is that it works. Ericksen concludes, Georgia’s Quick Start program appears to be a good way for companies to address their employee skills issue. He writes, “Georgia deserves kudos for their pioneering — and effective — effort at training their citizens for true employment opportunities and not just putting on a dog-and-pony show for the media.”

Keeping people gainfully employed is essential for the success of any economy. I hope politicians, companies, trade groups, and unions all take a minute this holiday to consider how programs like Quick Start can help brighten the employment picture in the years ahead. However, I’m not optimistic. Politicians are more likely to be out politicking today rather than thinking about ways to make the future better. As we gather today with friends and family to enjoy parades, picnics, ballgames, and the end of wearing white, perhaps the best way to honor workers is to let them enjoy a day off at the end of the summer season. From all of us at Enterra Solutions®, have a happy and safe Labor Day.

Footnotes
[1] Staff, “White House Pledges to Train and Reskill Workers,” IndustryWeek, 26 July 2019.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Paul D. Ericksen, “White House Skills Gap Pledge Falls Short, While Georgia Steps Up,” IndustryWeek, 8 August 2019.
[4] Adrienne M. Selko, “Georgia — Workforce Development Done Right,” IndustryWeek, 30 July 2019.