Why your college degree is worthless in Tennessee
by Lewis Loflin
Business claims they can't find the workers they need when in fact the problem is not a labor shortage but their policies. They desire a better educated minimum wage worker that will show up to work on time. The idea of one gets what they pay for eludes them.
This was first written in 2007-8 but is in every way relevant today. Manufacturing continues to decline and technology dictates higher educated and skilled workers while hiring less overall. What doesn't seem to have changed in low-wage states such as Tennessee is the hostile culture to labor and education itself. That issues must be addressed.
Note: in 2015 they claim manufacturing is coming back due to 1. cheap energy, 2. stagnant and falling wages, 3. huge corporate welfare packages. In reality these often end up as jobs relocating from state to the next to cut labor costs. Automation continues to impact labor along with mass immigration.
Quoting a Sullivan County official, he confirmed again what most in power here will not address: "I was in no way casting dispersions on the level of education at ETSU. When I said that "we have ETSU students flipping burgers," I was pointing out that we do not have the level of jobs in this area to sustain the number of graduates from our local colleges. Therefore, they are forced to either leave the area or take what jobs are available to them, which in most cases are in the service area." The trouble is there are no decent jobs even open to college graduates.
The problem remains the business and social culture of the region and the hostile anti-labor business climate. For economic and it seems cultural reasons they shun college graduates that expect better pay and treatment, but instead desire high school graduates with college skills.
College in particular liberal arts degrees (the most common) don't prepare anyone for the labor force leaving students in debt unable or unwilling to take jobs often seen "as beneath them". College political climate is far left while the business climate of the region is far right. Both sides need to look at reality - it's the culture stupid.
Also see We Don't Hire People with College
Area employers want high school grads who have better math, verbal skills
12/09/2007 Kingsport Times-News (extract) ...These are the skills state business leaders say are most needed for entry-level jobs in today's economy, according to a final report issued by the Tennessee Diploma Project (TDP).
TDP, an initiative of state and business officials with the Tennessee Business Roundtable, involved statewide meetings with more than 130 business leaders representing 112 companies and organizations between June and August. Nearly 350 business leaders were also surveyed to rate the importance of job skills. TDP's report said that job skills wanted by employers also tended to be the skills frequently cited as missing among high school graduates.
TDP's major recommendations: Tennessee schools should place more emphasis on basic math; schools need project-based instruction; schools need to emphasize verbal communication; and schools should explore approaches for helping instill professional skills, including promoting appearance, punctuality and work ethic. The result could be a push for higher academic standards by either the Bredesen administration or lawmakers next year...
Ref http://www.tndiplomaproject.com which shut down soon after this article was published. They were very angry with my conclusions, but I'll let our business leaders speak for themselves.
College is the way to a real middle class job and lifestyle. To quote Virginia Maedgen, human resources consultant, Convergys Corp.:
...when you look at the gateway job, or the entry-level supervisor, which is really the position people move into that allows them to get to a job where they've got a real middle-class income and can build a life, that's where we're missing the key skills. Not only the communication and analytical ability, but just the ability to construct arguments.
A college prep curriculum offers so much of that. If we really get that type of curriculum as strong as it can be, it not only moves as many students as possible into post-secondary education, but it lifts up the group that would not make it to that level."
W. Andrew Burke, president and CEO, Regional Alliance for Economic Development:
"We recently completed a workforce profile and analysis in this region. More than 53 percent of the responding employers reported seeing deficiencies in basic skills...almost 28 percent of our population did not have a high school education, and that's very serious...In our world, it used to be, "Where is the cheapest place to do business?" Now it's, "Where is the best talent pool, the best human capital?" That overcomes everything else. If you can deliver that, then you're going to be in good shape."
So far this makes sense, but to quote Governor Phil Bredesen:
"Let's focus for the moment on people coming out of high school into careers rather than colleges...
So what are the problems? Scott Keys, plant manager, Cooper Standard Automotive:
"Along the lines of math, what we're finding in the manufacturing world is that statistics and probability, which aren't core subjects required for a high school diploma, are absolutely critical in this day and age. The majority of our people on the manufacturing floor come straight out of high school..." Just basics. Means, deviations, understanding what a Bell curve is, understanding when your process is shifting, understanding what the data is telling you. We have them do measurements and plot, but we have to educate them as to what it's actually telling them, and how to react to it. As I say, it's not advanced."
Mike Rohlwing, plant manager, Delta Faucet Co.: "On the manufacturing side, we've got 800 employees and 750 are the non-college graduate type...
Fred Cooper, president, Kingsport Book Inc.: Basic math is a huge issue. I'm talking about fractions and decimals and working without a calculator. They're dependent on machines to do basic math...I would love to see something in the curriculum, either on the vocational side or the traditional side of the high school, that prepares these young people for getting out into the real world...
Bo Passey, plant manager, Procter & Gamble: "From a hard skills standpoint, I see challenges beyond just the basic math skills. Analysis. Statistics. More and more of our business is becoming much more scientific. The days of putting the widget with the widget are gone. Technology would be the other area where we're finding folks are not capable. We're not teaching sufficient computer skills in high school. That gap is going to get bigger."
Fred Cooper, president, Kingsport Book Inc.: "we're trying to reach out and get high school educated young people who have some basic skills and who we feel like we can turn into craftsmen as the more experienced guys grow older and retire and move out of the workforce."
Ann Lewis, vice president of human resources, Jackson Energy Authority: "Even when kids have the knowledge, they have got to actually apply that knowledge in the workplace. If they could figure out how to self-manage, organize and prioritize their time, and do the research needed for problem solving, then maybe they can better transition to the workplace."
Larry Nunley, CEO and president, Accuforce Staffing Services: "We processed over 100,000 people to place 11,000 people last year...no high school diploma or GED. That's a big cross-section. Use of recreational drugs. That's a big knockout factor. But we've also raised our quality standards. Especially over the last five years, we saw our customers' demands increasing, in terms of process improvement that led to new equipment and machinery. So the job is totally different than it was 10 years ago, and significantly different than it was five years ago."
Jeff Thomas, human resources manager, Delta Faucet: People identify a path that maybe does not involve college. There are apprenticeship programs. A higher percentage of people come into the workforce with skills. And that makes a difference. Right now, we have some very high-paying jobs, and we can't find the skill sets."
Who is to blame? Arthur S. (Art) Powers, publisher, Johnson City Press: "To a person, the answer was: "It's the parents Much of the education business and the business community blame each other." To quote Lisa Meadows, president and CEO, Bristol Chamber of Commerce: "One of the things we hear continually from our members, whether it's small business, manufacturing or health care, is that there is a lack of connection and dialogue between educators and business. You hear from education, "Businesspeople do not understand what we go through," and I think they really don't understand what business needs. So I'm hoping this effort will get the two integrated."
But someone finally said what I already knew, but still missed the point. To quote Jason Bates, administration manager, Bodine Aluminum Inc.: "In addition to those issues, we look at specific technical skills, like basic math. Individuals who have a higher level of math skills typically go into the college ranks. The ones who don't tend to be the ones who struggle. But those are important skills that are required for our entry-level positions."
Most community colleges are not aimed at producing workers, but also know that business doesn't won't college graduates to begin with. To quote TN Gov. Bredesen: "Well, I don't think our community college system does a wonderful job of aligning what it's doing with the real needs of the workplace. One thing I'm interested in exploring is any kind of joint effort where a community college can help train people in exchange for some honest attempts on your part to employ them when they're done."
Yes Governor Bredesen, how about "some honest attempts" on the part of regional industry to employ our young people that have the qualifications they demand, instead of lobbying for open borders and more Mexicans! That's the point, they won't hire people with college for social and political reasons, not work ethics or skills. And good people will not work for $7-$8 an hour! One can't operate a modern business on a 1920s mentality. In the past experience and shear numbers made up for stupid politics and illiteracy, it won't work today.
To sum all of this up, the region suffers chronic dropout rates because the large numbers of dropouts breed more dropouts. Most of those with the motivation and skills business here demands, are rejected because they want high school graduates, not people with college. Most of the remaining employment is government, which is plagued by nepotism.
So the vast majority of qualified workers out-migrate to get jobs elsewhere leaving a huge concentration of welfare losers, drug abusers, and more dropouts. All of this would change if the economic climate and corporate politics would change. Both Virginia and Tennessee rank in the top ten most anti-union (thus anti-labor) states in the country.
Wall of separation in education
Printed Kingsport Times News 1/8/08: Area employers claim to want statistics, probability, and good English skills. So why are so many hiring illiterate illegal aliens? This region is very labor hostile, and the Tarnoff Report made it clear employers refuse to increase pay or improve working conditions. Accuforce had to go through almost 100,000 people to get 11,000 qualified workers, many at $7 an hour. What am I missing here?
As an adjunct in vocational trades in the local college system, many (not all) of my younger students are lazy, while older students often lack science, math and English skills. There is a rigid wall of separation in education between academic and vocational, practical versus theoretical. The often left-wing humanities advocates are more interested in social engineering than math and dominate most school systems.
We face large numbers of disinterested or hostile parents and waste our time fighting over divisive political issues such evolution and condoms in schools. These are family issues that belong in the home, not the classroom. Many vocational programs are often wrongly used as dumping grounds for those considered academic failures. Business for some reason seems to hold the same hostility towards higher education on the factory floor while screaming they need those skills.
This nonsense must end because we need workers with both. We have far too many worthless humanities degrees for people that can't change a light bulb, while welders can't read a blueprint, as one factory manager told me. We need less global warming politics and more ability to convert Fahrenheit to Celsius. Students need to learn computers (number bases and computer logic), not just Microsoft and Google. We need to get politics and class warfare off the factory floor and out of the schools and employ some real teamwork. This wall of separation needs to go.
Lewis Loflin, Bristol, VA
As I was told in very strong terms by a person heading efforts to recruit and improve the workforce in Washington and Smyth Counties in Virginia, which have about 90 manufacturing companies, there's absolutely no discussion of wage scales or working conditions, period nor would he discuss it. He also made it clear industry has no interest in your college, your education, etc. That's just the way it is. Their job is to assist industry, period.
That's the attitude of this maze of non-profits that seemed determined only to get the next government grant. He also made it clear many of the jobs were never even advertised with the general public. It's worked through a closed system of insiders. But here is some data these fools "on the inside" better deal with from the US Department of Labor:
# Average hourly earnings of production workers in manufacturing were $16.80 in 2006, very near the average of $16.76 for production and non-supervisory workers in all private industry.
Why in the hell would anyone worth anything work in an abusive and often dirty and toxic environment for about the same pay (often far less here) as anywhere else in the economy? Their biggest complaint is their best workers quit and go on to better jobs. Too bad, that's how capitalism works. In my view unless there's massive changes in social climate then a retirement community is all we will have left. 15,000 college graduates have fled just Southwest Virginia alone over the last 20 years. Throw in the East Tennessee side of Tri-Cities, it's about 35,000 or more.
Another problem they face is the endless plant closings and layoffs, just like shutdowns in the coal fields, many good workers refuse to return even for higher pay believing the job only temporary. In fields such as nursing in this area, most leave the occupation after three years due to horrible labor conditions. Years of labor abuse are coming back to haunt them.
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