Blue Collar Jobs Are Roaring Back to Life

Training the Next Generation Is Now Acute

“I can say the willingness to get dirty has always defined us as an nation, and it’s a hallmark of hard work and a hallmark of fun, and dirt is not the enemy.” —Mike Rowe

hanks to Trump’s new trade policies, heavy industries like steel and other manufacturing sectors are ramping up idle plants and looking to put Americans back to work. And for those who still think manufacturing isn’t a big part of the economic boon, consider that manufacturing contributed more than 10 percent of the national gross domestic product in 2017—and is continuing to grow.

Not only has a manufacturing magic wand been waved under the Trump Administration’s new trade policies with China and the renegotiation of NAFTA, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that blue collar wages are rising faster than white collar wages. Employees in the “management, professional, and related” category gained a meager 2.5 percent in rising wages compared to the “production, transportation, and material moving” categories, where wages rose 3.4 percent. Wages in the “trade, transportation, and utilities” workers categories rose 3.3 percent.

Republic Steel executives told Cleveland.com that their once-idled rolling steel mill is set to reopen in Lorain, Ohio. The Lorain mill is poised to initially hire 60 employees to jump start production. “Over 60 employees have been hired and completed training, and the mill has undergone a complete refurbishment,” executives said in a statement. “We have successfully run internal production trials, and now anticipate receiving sufficient orders to support moving to a production mode in the 2nd Quarter of this year.”

And while this is all good news, a report released this year by the Manufacturing Institute in partnership with Deloitte estimates 2.4 million manufacturing jobs will need to be filled in the next decade. The most difficult jobs to fill are skilled jobs—digital positions and advanced production. Because of technological advancements in the industry, many of these positions require different kinds of training than traditional manufacturing. In fact, the Institute says the inability to find skilled workers will be the number one business challenge for manufacturers.

In their August 2018 report,  Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute took a deep dive into the skills gap and future of work and crunched the numbers. They found that there were 508,000 open jobs in U.S. manufacturing, the best annual job growth in more than 20 years. Problem is, there’s also a growing shortage in skilled labor. Mike Rowe, the former host of the hit TV show, “Dirty Jobs,” believes he knows why. Rowe said, “America has become slowly but undeniably disconnected from the most fundamental elements of civilization—food, energy, education, and the very nature of work itself. America is profoundly disconnected.”

On the page of the foundation he started, MikeroweWORKS.org, Rowe states,”Over the last 30 years, America has convinced itself that the best path for the most people is an expensive, four-year degree. Pop culture has glorified the ‘corner office job’ while unintentionally belittling the jobs that helped build the corner office. As a result, our society has devalued any other path to success and happiness.

“Community colleges, trade schools, and apprenticeship programs are labeled as ‘alternative.’ Millions of well-intended parents and guidance counselors see apprenticeships and on-the-job training opportunities as ‘vocational consolation prizes,’ best suited for those not cut out for the brass ring: a four-year degree. The push for higher education has coincided with the removal of vocational arts from high schools nationwide. And the effects of this one-two punch have laid the foundation for a widening skills gap and massive student loan debt.”

No doubt, there is an undeniable negative perception of the manufacturing industry, one that is continuing to throw shade on an already demoralized industry. As baby boomers retire and the educational system works tirelessly to put students on the college track, manufacturers will be squeezed between filling open positions and continuing their upward trajectory. According to Breitbart, “Salaries for American college graduates have been flat for many years, partly because business groups have been allowed to import an army of roughly 1.5 million low-wage college-graduate visa workers.”

The Deloitte study found that it takes an average of 93 days to fill skilled production positions, which include areas such as welding, machining equipment and operations. And for more skilled labor that requires at least a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, such as engineers, researchers and scientists, that number increases to 118 days. 

As I reported on in a previous article, Walking a Mile in America Made Shoes, today’s manufacturing job isn’t the same as your grandfather’s old job. The research found that for production workers, it’s not just the need for STEM degrees but rather the ability to program machines on the plant floor. Employers need workers with extended computer skills that enable core production workers to program a CNC (computer numeric control) machine for a new job or interact with CAD/CAM and other engineering or manufacturing software.

A recent World Economic Forum study found human skills such as critical thinking, creativity and originality, attention to detail, problem-solving and people management are expected to see an outsized increase in demand relative to their current prominence. Manufacturers and local governments are trying to get ahead of the skills gap by teaming with high schools and taking a more active role in training the new manufacturing workforce. In a report on UPI.com the principal at Perry Central Community Schools, a rural district in southern Indiana, is among a small but growing number of midwestern districts that are bringing manufacturers into their high schools to train students in basic operations. The partnerships mean students leave high school with real-world experience—and sometimes a job.

Welders and other production workers are needed in today’s mills and factories, but manufacturing jobs also need STEM workers and employees who know how to work with CAD and other computer engineering software.

Trump’s trade policies and his work with the Department of Commerce (DOC) to tame China’s subsidized, state-owned steel and aluminum companies to curb its dumping practices is working. Through the DOC’s investigation of trade practices under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, Trump has made steel and aluminum production a priority in the United States and is aggressively enforcing steel import laws.

As Trump once so famously said, “We are going to win so much, you are going to be so sick and tired of winning.” And it appears that in pushing back against China’s violation of current steel trade agreements, the Trump Administration’s DOC may just have saved some jobs in the rusty steel belts of Indiana, Mississippi, and Pennsylvania.

Steel Dynamics, Inc., one of the largest domestic steel producers and metals recyclers in the United States and Mexico, filed a petition with the DOC in September 2016 claiming that the Chinese were circumventing trade laws by having its cold roll and corrosion resistant flat roll steel processed in Vietnam. After a preliminary investigation, the DOC found that corrosion-resistant steel and certain cold roll steel products imported from Vietnam were, in fact, being produced from substrate originating in China, thereby allowing China to circumvent existing antidumping and countervailing duty orders on steel imported from China.

China is facing a 25 percent tariff on imports beginning March 1, and Chinese officials are anxious to meet with Trump in the coming weeks to finalize a comprehensive trade deal. While we wait on our wall, we can rest assured that manufacturing is making a comeback thanks to strict enforcement of existing laws and leveling the playing field for U.S. steel and aluminum companies to fairly compete.

It was previous generations that knew how to build and get their hands a little dirty. It’s time for the next generation to fill their shoes. Manufacturing is paying more now than ever and they need smart, trained skilled workers.

The next hurdle is getting the elites in their ivory towers who have made billions of dollars on useless student loans to get out of our way. Now is the time for local and community governments and local manufacturing to put their collective heads together and solve the looming labor shortage problem and put our young people back to work in skilled jobs. We don’t need the government to help us Make America Great Again, we already have all that we need and a few good men—and women. Let’s shut down the snowflake factories of academia and their useless tribal studies programs—we owe it to our grandfathers. It’s time to bring the trade school and apprentice models back in a yuge way! #Reignwell

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