As employers bemoan the harsh reality of the lack of qualified workers, other organizations are taking steps to overcome the obstacle, including creating their own in-house education programs.
For white collar jobs college is not a cure all, and many graduates are not ready for even the beginning steps in their chosen careers. On the blue-collar front, retirement is coming fast and furious, while the allure of these jobs has long lost the luster of the past. For example, the auto industry’s two-tier system for blue collar may have negated many of the perceived esteem benefits of working for the OEMs. Although many of these jobs require advanced skills, many in the workforce do not have the basic skills to meet the requirements for these jobs.
With employers feeling that the school systems are failing them by not turning out qualified workers, many are taking the lead to close that gap with internal programs. At Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories in Pullman, Washington, workers take classes in algebra, physics, and writing in the factory complex and can check out books from a company library. AT&T Inc. is investing more than $1 billion to retrain over 100,000 workers through a patchwork of classes and programs that are helping them update their skills for the next iteration of AT&T. And Atlanta-based aluminum-products maker Novelis started a school within the company to impart lessons pulled from the factory floor with a faculty and nine “deans” to oversee it. “A new engineering graduate hired by Novelis took five years to get up to speed,” said Joanne McInnerney, the company’s vice president for human resources in North America. “We had to shorten that time to about two years.”
What are the skills necessary for the future? Critical thinking for one. It isn’t just right brain problem solving but identifying problems that need to be solved. It’s holistic thinking, not in-the-weed thinking. “At most schools in this country, students basically spend four years in college, and they don’t necessarily become better thinkers and problem solvers,” said Josipa Roksa, a University of Virginia sociology professor who co-wrote a book in 2011 about the CLA+ test. “Employers are going to hire the best they can get, and if we don’t have that, then what is at stake in the long run is our ability to compete.”
Unfortunately, “[r]ight now a four-year program is where many students head by default,” said Joseph Fuller, a Harvard Business School professor who has studied degree inflation. Many organizations are requiring degrees for a job that in the past, one wasn’t required. This situation changes job pricing and also frustrates graduates as they learn that the job doesn’t require their specific degree.
Major employers like CVS Health Corp., Novelis, IBM, Aon PLC, and JPMorgan Chase & Co. are now hiring workers because of what they can do, or what the company believes they can teach them, instead of the degrees they hold.
Ed Schweitzer was a professor of electrical engineering when he started his company in his basement in 1984. As an educator, he knew the strengths and weakness in the higher education system. In response, Dr. Schweitzer prioritizes education at the company, creating an atmosphere where assemblers regularly rise up to technicians and work alongside engineers. “If Thomas Edison walked through the door today, would we turn him away because we don’t have a job opening for an inventor?” said Dr. Schweitzer, whose own father dropped out of college but went on to hold 100 patents.
This creates a new issue for regulators and employers. If employees without degrees do the same work as those who have degrees, and those with degrees are exempt and those without are not, it could be an anomaly in the law. Should all jobs be viewed as non-exempt or will the exempt definitions still have meaning in the new employment world?
Source: The Wall Street Journal 3/27/18, 6/5/17