Fixing Unemployment Means Fixing Our Perceptions Of Work

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

Mike Rowe is the host of The Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs show.  Depending on your viewing preferences, he may also be best known as the pitchman for the Ford Motor Company.  And in his spare time, he operates a company called Mike Rowe Works.  He describes it as a small California company that is “trying to close the country’s skills gap by changing the way Americans feel about work”.

A couple of weeks ago while most of us political types were preoccupied with conventions (and squeezing in a brief holiday celebrating labor), Rowe wrote a letter to Mitt Romney to address the issue, similar to one he wrote to President Obama when he was first a candidate.  Titled “The first four years are the hardest” (and found on MikeRoweWorks.com), he details some of the problems we have in putting many in our country back to work.

Frankly, a lot of the problem is with ourselves, and it is in our heads.  Rowe states the problem as “our country has become emotionally disconnected from an essential part of our workforce.  We are no longer impressed with cheap electricity, paved roads, and indoor plumbing.  We take our infrastructure for granted, and the people who build it.”

As such, we’ve developed a skills gap in our nation, and we can find evidence of it here in Georgia.  While we graduate a record number of college graduates (providing them cheap loans to pay for their education but little guidance or assurance that there will be a job for them based on the skills they obtain), we have jobs going unfilled that require technical training but no college degree.

There are currently 12,632 open truck driving positions in Georgia according to the Governor’s office of workforce development.  These positions had a 2011 hourly wage of $16.91 per hour.  The training required is only a nine week program.  Nine weeks of training could wipe out the need for ninety nine weeks of unemployment benefits.

Similarly, there are 2,966 open positions under the loose description of mechanics, installers, and repairers of systems such as heating, ventilation and air conditioning.  These require more training and often an apprenticeship program, but the starting wage is an average of $25.78 per hour.  There are many unemployed and underemployed college graduates who would have been better served with shorter (and paid) apprenticeships for technical training than to rack up student debt for skills that do not match today’s workforce.

Georgia has used Rowe to launch its technical recruitment campaign, but there remains a stigma for too many to consider what Rowe has branded as “dirty jobs”.  What was once considered a badge of honor to have completed an “honest day’s work” now appears to some as to have settled for less.  Even though in many instances, experienced workers in technical fields make more today than their average college graduate counterparts.

Rowe calls it this way: “We need people who see opportunity where opportunity exists.  We need enthusiasm for careers that have been overlooked and underappreciated by society at large. We need to have a really big national conversation about what we value in the workforce…”

And he is correct.  The first step to solving a problem is to recognize that we have a problem.  And we do.  We do not place the social value on quality technical jobs that matches their monetary value.

The job market and related wages tells us that these jobs are needed, and that there is value in them.  It is time we have this conversation with ourselves, young and old.  The young need to understand that paths of opportunity do not exclusively run through universities.  Those of us who are older need to encourage those making training and career choices to choose what best suits them, rather than force conformity of expectation that success in life can only be attained through a formal degree program.

42 comments

  1. John Konop says:

    I 100% agree and this should be part of the options in high school, without the No Child Left behind 4 year college bound requirements! Also if you fill the jobs you create more jobs when employed people spend their wages ie housing, cars, food……….. This creates more tax revenue via wages spent and less welfare. Also instead of tax payers paying for repeat failed classes, students paying for loans after dropping out……they now have jobs. WAKE UP CALL!

  2. joe says:

    I suspect that the Governor’s Office of Workforce Development wage numbers are a little high. The US DOL Wage Determination for Fulton county shows a Heavy Equipment Mechanic at $21.25. This does not include the$3.71 for Health and Welfare, but H&W is usually covered by the health insurance benefit, and an SCA (Davis-Bacon Service Contract Act) employee counts wages only. http://www.wdol.gov/sca.aspx

    One of the problems with SCA jobs is that there is limited opportunity for advancement. After somebody has been a mechanic for 10-15 years, what is next?

    • LoyaltyIsMyHonor says:

      After someone has been an attorney for 10-15 years, what is next? There’s always room for advancement. A mechanic could learn to do more specialized expensive work. Become self-employed and own his/her own shop. Build on that and open more shops….

      • seekingtounderstand says:

        The new natural gas trucks would require people willling to start new businesses if congress passes the bill for incentivizing retro of truck engines.

    • benevolus says:

      What needs to be next? Mechanic should be a viable career, one that can support a family.

      This is something that unions did well (before squandering their good will): They fought for tradesmen to be able to have a career in their trade and be proud of it. Now, too many think that there needs to be something next. What’s next is that you get really good at your trade and then you finally retire. Maybe not rich but at least not poor.

    • saltycracker says:

      Joe,

      I’ve been well acquainted with mechanics all my working life. The doors of opportunity, their choice, is better than most MBA’s. Not just starting businesses either. Where do you think many of the retiring multi-millionaires at UPS started ? Mechanicing or driving a truck.

  3. saltycracker says:

    Well said – This is well known and maybe what is needed is a champion for the cause like Mike Rowe. one cool dude, originally schooled as an opera singer.

    In my opinion and empirical observation America does not have a jobs problem and the unemployment figures are not a reflection of what is happening. The support system for the “jobless” and educationally misdirected (defrauded) is a train wreck enabling and exacerbating the problem with a growing number of folks unwilling (by personal choice) or incapable ( by training/ability) of generating income.

  4. Max Power says:

    Ok, no offense Charlie but I’m getting sick of hearing white collar people talking about all these blue collar jobs that are available if you just skip college and focus on technical training.

    Let’s talk about these jobs:
    There are currently 12,632 open truck driving positions in Georgia according to the Governor’s office of workforce development. These positions had a 2011 hourly wage of $16.91 per hour.

    I’m assuming that’s an average hourly wage because most truck drivers don’t start at closer to $13, that’s of course if you’re local. If you work OTR you’re paid by the mile and force to drive illegally to make any real money.

    Similarly, there are 2,966 open positions under the loose description of mechanics, installers, and repairers of systems such as heating, ventilation and air conditioning. These require more training and often an apprenticeship program, but the starting wage is an average of $25.78 per hour.

    Wow $25.78 an hour, I went to law school and don’t make that much. But then if you’ve ever worked at a job like that you know the real story. One many of these jobs are not 40 hour a week 52 week a year affairs. You work when there’s work and you don’t when there none. Benefits, if you’re working for a big company you may have them but lots of smaller shops provide none. And that’s the real problem with these kind of jobs…

    I worked my way through undergrad in a factory, and people who had worked there all their lives looked 70 at 50. These kind of jobs wear out your body. Spend a day working commercial HVAC as I recently did to assist a friend in need. 12 hours of hanging duct, brazing lines, lifting hundreds of pounds of equipment. I’m in pretty good shape and found myself aching in all new places. Now imagine doing that for 40 years.

    Since pensions have gone the way of the dodo, when you do the math these jobs don’t pay that much, and many don’t offer any kind of 401(k), most of these folks get to retirement age unable to work and totally dependent on social security. Compare that to even the most entry level white collar job, I’ve never seen anyone’s hand crushed in a call center or someone stooped over from making so many copies. You can basically work a white collar job until you’re ready not to do it anymore.

    My father was a mechanic who died in his early 40s but even by then 20+ years of that work had taken a toll on his body. You want to know why there aren’t people lining up for these good jobs, the fact is they aren’t that good.

  5. John Konop says:

    In all due respect Max, your aptitude is diferent than other people. I know this for a fact from conversation we have had in the past. The point is that we have many in society, aproximently 66 Percent that do not have the same aptitude as you. We can as a society keep trying to pound square pegs into round holes or we can train people based on aptitude. Btw aptitude varies based on skills would you want your doctor to be your lawyer, would you want your dentist to be your electrician…….

  6. Max Power says:

    John in rereading my.post it comeded. And I have no wish to see those without the aptitude for higher education be forced into it. Before law school i worked many years in HR. One of the things that drove me crazy was hiring managers demanding college degrees for white collar jobs that clearly didnt require them.

    The point I was trying to make in my original post was that many of these socalled good jobs arent that good when you look at the total compensation package and wear on the body.

    • benevolus says:

      I’m sure you’re right, but what’s the point? Trade jobs need to pay better! We need to be willing to pay them decent wages. It costs us a little up front, but once those guys make more they will spend more, stimulating more production/distribution/sales . All good.

      • saltycracker says:

        B,

        Maybe MP’s point was to agree with the many going out into the world today……they don’t want “work” they expect a “job”…….American entitlement….the thought of continuing hard work sure motivated me to.get a degree/trade…..

      • Harry says:

        Trade jobs need to pay better? Not really. No jobs need to pay better. What is needed is that the customer receives the best value for money. American youth for the most part are fat, dumb, lazy and greedy, and can’t possibly compete with Mexican and other imported skilled and semi-skilled workers. Just the facts.

    • Max Power says:

      Can you tell that post was written on my phone? That first sentence should read “John in rereading my post it comes across as too harsh.”

  7. Dave Bearse says:

    30 years plus of bad-mouthing and weakening unions and the fallacy of trickle-down economics have taken their greatest tolls on semi-skilled manual labor. Truck-driving and HVAC repair can’t be off-shored, thus globalization isn’t the culprit (though it is relevant to the extent that that work can be bench-marked to manufacturing and other manual labor that can be off-shored).

    I agree with Max the full Social Security eligibility age shouldn’t be increased above 67. Physical capabilities wane. Stagnant pay doesn’t provide the opportunity to save much. Tradespeople are often able to make up for the loss of physical capabilities in middle age by experience and working smarter. The physical elements of the work can eventually overcome experience and working smarter, if there isn’t significant dimunition of mental capacity in the senior years as well.

    Reduce the general benefits and increase FICA, and perhaps target benefit reductions and initiate a surtax, to maintain full Social Security elibility at 67. A $17 an hour truck driver qualifies for less than a $1,200 per month Social Security retirement benefit. (Check it out for yourself here: http://www.ssa.gov/OACT/quickcalc/index.html ) This relatively modest benefit, after perhaps 50 years of employment, is too much though for recipients to avoid being disparaged for being dependent on government if they don’t pay federal income tax.

  8. greencracker says:

    Re: Unions. Hey, good idea! Maybe Gov’s office could partner with the IBEW just down the road from capitol as well as with Mike Rowe. IBEW has similar outreach, will hook you up with apprenticeship, etc.

    Gov + IBEW = Winning!

  9. saltycracker says:

    We will not begin to right the ship until we change the systemic gaming of minimizing our participation. Fix a tax code that sorts out winners and loosers leaving the honest andFlorida jaguarundi compliant to pay more and more.
    Why should we have to hire lawyers and accountants to protect and shelter our earnings ? Why should we worry about the govt questioning what we have saved in 401k’s ?
    Why build cottage industries for legally gaming the system?

    We can reduce Medicare/Medicaid by privatization, high premiums for the grossly obese and destructive lifestyles along. Then there is the $60 billion in fraud and the
    Unwillingness or in capability to enforce.

    Like the black hole of education, there is no end to the need for money until we address the system.

    • benevolus says:

      The only way (I think) to not have winners and losers is communism. So if we are going to have winners and losers, who better to decide than us- who our leaders are supposed to represent? If our leaders aren’t representing us, then we need to fix that. But having fund managers and stock brokers picking all the winners and losers is a far worse outcome to me.

      • saltycracker says:

        Id prefer politicians and brokers not make my decisions but provide me with a wide range of options to win or fail by. A flat or fair tax program that fits on one page migh be nice, no exceptions, no deductions, no subsidies just a low tax rate for everyone.

        • benevolus says:

          As long as we have corporations that are designed to maximize profits for investors who have no idea or no care about what that company does or who works there, they will eventually abuse the workers (us!) because they are only in it for the profit. Therefore, we need government to restrain the abuse so that people have a reasonable chance to be something other than serfs.

          • saltycracker says:

            No issues with reasonable regulations to insure competitive markets and choices. There aren’t good choices when the government takes ownership or total control.

            There are some big problems today as we allow corporate oligarchies and government to work hand in hand.

            Profit is not a bad word and businesses can do verfy well at margins far less than the costs of bureaucratic, incompetent public “services”. There are businesses, even financial advisors that thrive by working in the best interest of their customers as contrasted with those that look at the customer as the mark.

        • seekingtounderstand says:

          Our tax system is really a jobs program. They could fix it but they never will. They will not give away the power.

  10. Spacey G says:

    I really just wanted to be a quiet, small appliance repair person, with a little shoppe out back of the house, near the fields of pretty cows and goldenrod and misty blue mountains rising from my green and pleasant valley.

    However, I was forced to go to college, whereby I’m now stuck on the connector so I can get downtown, praying I don’t have yet another car totalled out by some bat-brained Gwinnett County soccer mom texting away in her woolly mammoth-sized Escalade.

    If it’s a good day I can take 45-minutes off from life in front of multiple computer screens around 1pm, and go step around the seemingly thousands of Bums and Winos of the ATL when navigating ridiculously dangerous crosswalks in 98-degree diesel fuel-stained air space when I want a slice of that grade “D” pizza at that filth-ridden joint adjacent to my place of work.

    So yeah, dream those bigtime dreams of white collar work, kiddies.

  11. Trey A. says:

    There are lots of people in a free market economy that are happy and willing to do those dirty jobs, pay taxes in Georgia, spend their paychecks in Georgia and thus make our economy stronger. Unfortunately, our supposedly free market oriented General Assembly has taken measures to keep a lot of those folks in other states and other countries. If Georgians won’t do the work, open things up to people that will. Don’t create protectionist barriers to keep those people out or scare them away.

    • saltycracker says:

      Georgia doesn’t get to write immigration laws nor is it allowed to exceed federal law with protectionist barriers. So you probably support open borders, lawlessness and exploition of illegals. The Feds need to fix the problems with immigration.

  12. seekingtounderstand says:

    Just so you know the second generation born from those hard working immigrants turn out to be lazy and worthless just like some of the folks you refer to in your post.
    What would motivate folks for any job is a living wage which will never happen with open borders.

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