January 20, 2017 – Inauguration Day. My plans are to carve out some time today to see the Vice President and President-elect swear-in and listen to their remarks. As today is Friday, I am working at the office and planned to go to the company conference room to watch it on the big-screen TV, but too busy to move all my papers. As the program nears, I tried to live-stream the event on my computer, but could not connect. Perhaps too many people doing the same thing…too busy to troubleshoot. As noon nears, too busy to go to my car and listen to the radio. Ah, just forget it, I am just too busy!
The reason why I am so overwhelmed is that I am part of a previous generation that is deeply skilled in manufacturing. As the last of the baby-boomers, we learned to make things for America, in America, and were trained in apprenticeships, on-the-job training, and plain hard work. To make matters more complex, I am a third-generation business owner of a ninety-six-year-old manufacturing company with seven smoke stacks and sixty-eight employees trying to get by in a declining marketplace with overdue orders.
Fortunately, my company has been able to stay busy and has been in-business for so long because we have changed with the times: invested in new technology and focused on our niche. As an example, we use 3-D printing to replace our retired skilled tool and die makers, computerized multi-axis robots to take the place of turning cranks by hand, and digital laser scanning to measure parts instead with micrometers. Of course, everyone does their all their own paperwork on the computer.
Yes, we Americans are more efficient, accurate, and very fast with our new toys, but sadly however, our newer workforce simply lacks soft skills like showing up, being on time, and working a full week.
Furthermore, many apprenticeships are outdated and date back to the early 1940’s when the Roosevelt administration conceived of these programs. Our apprenticeship training takes five years or ten thousand hours — the same time frame which one could earn a Master’s degree. We cannot find young employees who will stick around for one year much less five.
Over the past two decades, our youth have opted to go to college without learning trade skills like ‘Joe the Plumber,’ who by the way, was discussed two elections ago! As a result, our nation has an abundance of well-educated young people that are great in IT and gaming, but unlike their parents, do not know how to make anything. In addition, our neighboring adolescents who live in our local community are affected by broken families, drugs, and oblivious to the importance of STEM for tomorrows jobs.
Every day, my company is doing a great part in our community by hiring and teaching skills to our neighbors, including ex-offenders, but basically, we are starting from scratch. We also have recruited talented legal immigrants who are well-educated, eager to work, and ready to re-establish their lives in our country. Still in the end, we ’old-timers’ are left with carrying the heavy load of complex manufacturing and already maxed-out.
With the day drawing to a close, I find myself reflecting and hopeful for the new ideas just presented to our nation. Yet, I am left bewildered how we are going to build bridges without any welders, produce concrete with new OSHA laws that cut silica exposures in half, and rebuild rusted factories which will require new and expensive equipment run by an engaged, next-generation workforce.
Small businesses will continue to do our little part. No doubt, we Americans will figure this out. Remember stories and photos of our grandparent’s ‘Greatest Generation’? America IS the greatest country in the world! We are a strong, diverse people, and with the right leadership, will rise to the occasion. Let the dialog finally begin, the goals to be set, and the policies drafted.
For now, I am just too busy to think about it anymore…too much to do!
John D. Danko
Danko Arlington, Inc.