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Don't Overlook Unskilled Labor as a Solution to Talent Shortage

Oct. 15, 2015
The supply chain workforce of the future may be in school right now… high school, that is.

In the clamor to find workers to fill positions in supply chain, trucking, warehousing and manufacturing, companies are making a full-court press to convince high school students planning on applying to universities to instead look at two-year colleges or technical colleges. These students, who are already on the education track, are prime candidates to learn the more advanced skills now needed for these types of jobs. These young people are able to launch themselves on a career path while spending less time in post-secondary schools (and just as significantly, incurring far less debt).

A group we tend to have overlooked, however, is the large market of unskilled labor. The reason for their lack of skills is more than likely due to a lack of opportunity. I remember a segment on "60 Minutes" years ago when a math professor was unable to find students to earn advanced degrees, so he turned to the local population who were in entry-level jobs and asked them to test for math ability. One young man ended up earning a PhD in math. He said if not for this opportunity he would have been a short-order cook his entire life.

I'm sure there are many such stories in all cities across the country.

One community, Rochester, N.Y, has created a program that specifically addresses this population. Anne Kress, president of Monroe Community College, explained to me that if you provide classes that are of a shorter duration—six-month classes instead of a year—and teach skills needed for current job openings, students will take advantage of them. She raised the completion rate of these certified programs from 34% to 80%. She took into account that many students were not able to be take off an entire year, where they would not be earning money, to attend school.

The State of New York is supporting these efforts through the Rochester Anti-Poverty Task Force. This past spring New York provided funding to AmeriCorp which offered job training. Again the key is to understand the specific needs of the population and address these needs to ensure success. "By investing in community organizations that help those in need with everything from child care to job training, we are taking a crucial step forward in the fight against poverty," Governor Andrew Cuomo said.

And employers are doing their part as well. For example Madison Industries, based in Chicago, is making a special effort to attract students to technical fields. Working with local high schools and community colleges, Madison brings students—including at-risk, inner city student—to their facilities to see that jobs are not the dirty, manual labor operations of the past. Site visits, which began as early as the 4th grade, showcase advanced, technical work and high skilled production technology. If students show an interest, they are introduced in high schools to advanced S.T.E.M. programs, and full-time jobs are available to those who complete the programs.

Another example is Hudson Technologies in Ormond Beach, Fla., which launched a tool-and-die apprenticeship program that takes qualified but unskilled workers and molds them into journeymen and master workers of the future.

"Instead of saying, ‘You have no manufacturing experience,' we asked, ‘What have you done?'" explained Lori Tapani, co-owner of Wyoming Machine, to the Star Tribune. "McDonald's is really, really good at following processes. I figured that if [a student] graduated from Hamburger U and mastered processes for them, he or she can help us do that here. It's all about changing the way we think of hiring people."

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