May 10. 2012 10:07AM

Students need ‘reality check' about jobs

By James Morgan

  
Manufacturing, and manufacturing careers, have been getting quite a bit of coverage lately.

Employers have made desperate pleas for skilled workers. There is a heightened awareness of the value manufacturing brings to a community. And, there is a growing, albeit slowly, recognition of the innovation and intelligence that goes into today's manufacturing jobs. Governor Walker has launched his College and Career Readiness Council and the President and his Education Secretary have also been extolling the virtues of college and career readiness.

That is all good. Manufacturing is critical to the future success of Wisconsin. Not only for the 425,000 employed in the sector, but for the hundreds of thousands that exist because of manufacturing. No other sector has the job multiplier effect that manufacturing does.

But let's not let old paradigms drive our future needs for a qualified workforce.

We know that about 30 percent of the jobs in Wisconsin will require a bachelor's degree or more. That means 70 percent do not, with the vast majority of those requiring technical education beyond high school. What seems to be missing in the current system is a broad understanding by today's students of the jobs available. They simply cannot select an occupation that they don't know exists. They do not know what a welder does; they do not know what a CNC Operator is; they have never seen the inside of a modern day, advanced manufacturing facility; and they do not have accurate job data and salary information. The same applies to their parents. And all of us (business, educators, parents, media) should share that blame.

The WMC Foundation recently conducted more than 50 listening sessions with over 300 manufacturers from around Wisconsin. Since completing that road trip, we have been sharing what we heard. One thing that became clear is that we need to change the definition of "success." As a parent, you want your children to be healthy and happy, doing something they love, and able to live comfortably. Isn't that most people's definition of success? This is America, and everyone should be encouraged to pursue their passion. However, we owe students a reality check and perhaps even a "Job Probability Index" – what are the odds they will find a job in their chosen field. We should discuss the passion they wish to pursue, provide information on what it will take to reach it, explore the costs involved, evaluate the job prospects upon completion, study the level of demand for their degree/career, look at salary expectations and consider the return on investment.

If every 16-year-old, and their parents, have all this information and a full understanding of (and open mind to) all the occupations available, we will work through this shortage. Currently though, our definition of success seems driven by a mentality that master's degree is better than bachelor's degree, bachelor's degree is better than technical degree, and technical degree is better than work experience. The workplace is not that linear and easily defined. Right now, there are shortages of engineers, welders, CNC operators, machinists, masons. Some of those require work experience, some apprenticeships, some technical degrees, some 4-year degrees or more. Let's make sure everyone knows the market, because the market will drive us to success.

As we focus on "college and career readiness," we might want to put "career" first.

Related Material:
Wisconsin Business Voice: Workforce Paradox – Solving the Skills Shortage

Editor's Note: Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) Foundation president Jim Morgan recently conducted more than 50 listening sessions with more than 300 manufacturers. He will be presenting his findings, as well as the foundation's initiative to deal with the skills shortage, at all 16 Technical Colleges. Click here for the schedule for those events.

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