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Training & Education

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By Udo O.J. Huff, M.ED.

Not investing in workforce training will be more expensive for companies in the long-term

July/August 2011 - Our industry is recovering slowly from the recession and facing different challenges, including low workforce skills. Statistically, the U.S. unemployment rate remains high, but job recovery is starting to improve. Unfortunately, the reality is many job seekers in the marketplace are low-skilled and unable to fill open positions.

Many experts in the metals industry view the workforce challenge as the biggest problem companies are going to face. Industry jobs require more than a high school education, and those who lack a high school diploma will have difficulties securing employment and earning a living wage.

Educating a future workforce
Does the industry want to expand its demand for future workforce training into a complex, high-academic, analytical and statistical study, or are there certain tools available to shed understanding on this important future workforce development challenge? Educational infrastructure exists at the state and national level, including kindergarten, preschool and middle and high school educations. However, the entire system is governed by budgets.

Budgets, in part, dictate curriculum changes for students, such as the elimination of foreign language studies in some classrooms. Furthermore, the implementation of future technologies for students in preschool, primary school and middle school has been shrunk to a bare minimum. A lack of required workforce training options results in a one-way educational street leading to college, which often is the only option students believe is available for their futures. They are competing with reduced budgets that dictate a bare education, without much room for them to decide their futures based on vocation, ability or performance.

The nation must apply different understanding and planning for future workforce training, but calling for more college education is not the answer. Currently, roughly 1 percent of every 500,000 high school graduates will earn a masters degree or higher. What will happen to the majority of students leaving high school every year? A difficult start, low-skilled jobs and potential unemployment.

Sweeping education budget reforms on a government level take more time than just a half year or fiscal year, and the nation’s industry and its managers are planning and setting the annual budgets with a focus on cutting overhead. Often, training is viewed as unwanted overhead. However, individual companies have more flexibility than government and must move more quickly to allocate training funds to evaluate a return on investment. Industry, therefore, must take the initiative to create and offer training. Unfortunately, some companies believe as soon as they train employees and increase their skills, they will take their knowledge and switch jobs for more pay.

Different paths
The industry lacks a technical educational infrastructure to help students avoid the one-way path of the nation’s existing educational infrastructure that leads to college. College is a good option for some students, but it is not the best option for all students.

Technical education options are available, such as the apprenticeship training system that exists in many key industries. What is the difference between apprenticeship training and college education?

With apprenticeship training programs, students most often are employed as they receive training and education. They typically receive benefits and wages as they increase their knowledge levels. This can help them fund future educational needs.

With college education, students typically are not employed in their chosen field as they are learning. They begin with loans, no wages and no benefits. Upon receiving their degrees, a job is not guaranteed for college students, which can make loan repayment difficult.

It is expensive for the industry and the nation not to invest in workforce training. Industry in the United States is the driving force of gross income, industrial productivity and progress. We have the capability to change, guide and improve an existing, self-contained technical educational infrastructure with opportunities for job seekers. Technical training has the possibility to be a successful win-win situation for all participants according to every person’s ability and performance. Companies must offer their efforts not only to students but parents, schools and colleges.

It is imperative not to cut the budget for early and further education. Companies must invest in an innovative and future-oriented educational infrastructure with a high grade of flexibility to gain success in future workforce training for the individual and the entire industry. FFJ

Udo O.J. Huff is an independent consultant with project experience in machine building, welding engineering, training and development. He holds Master of Education and Bachelor of Science in Technology degrees from Bowling Green State University. Questions or comments? E-mail uhuff@sbcglobal.net.

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