What good is a high school diploma?

At the 2009 Precision Machining Technology Show, Noah Graff interviewed David Holscott, consultant to the Precision Machined Product Association Education Foundation.

Holscott said he was pleased with the PMTS show’s student attendance, which he projected to be about 225. However, he remains concerned that people still do not sufficiently emphasize to students the importance of post high school education nor do they recognize the potential for vocational schools to lead to fulfilling careers.

Question: Do you fear that in five years the U.S. manufacturing sector will not have a sufficient skilled labor force?

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6 thoughts on “What good is a high school diploma?

  1. Larry A

    There is already a shortage of skilled labor within the manufacturing industry, especially in the screw machine industry. However, there hasn’t been much demand for the past several years.

    This may create some severe problems in the future of manufacturing in this country. The good part for those of us skilled workers is that we’ll be able to demand much higher wages as our skills are sought out.

    I expect manufacturing to begin picking up this summer and continue to pick up for the next couple of years. It’ll probably be a gradual process, but with a shortage of machinists, it’ll be very good for the screw machine labor force. It’ll probably take a bit longer to absorb the excess inventories of used equipment on the market to drive up the values of our equipment but it will eventually get there.

  2. Dr. Frank

    In any metal bending operation that you can name; be it machining, forging, casting, heat treating, plating, or stamping, the concentration of older men with white hair is approaching 80 plus percent. Just as worrisome is the obvious lack of knowledge of the H28. I is my opinion that we went below critical mass for skilled personel in the 2002/2003 recession. We lost perhaps 1/2 of the screw machine shops in the country. In our facility, two generations have gone into simplifing the machine so that a low skilled worker can turn out good parts. This technique works well with the high skill support staff in the machine tool building division where hardened and ground everything goes into the machine. The fly in the ointment is that the cost to build the machine could never be justified to an outsider.

  3. Jim C.

    I don’t see any shortage of skilled labor or machinists. There’s a shortage of jobs. Businesses like to tote out this rumor (a shortage) every few years to convince our governments (state and federal) to pay for more education programs, so that the market will be flooded with new trainees, holding down wages. There are plenty of unemployed and underemployed skilled people willing to work for a liveable wage. Manufacturers have only to search their own plant floors to find skills not in use. They could also start training programs and apprenticeships like companies used to do. But they’ve found it is much easier, and cheaper to whine about a skilled labor “shortage” and let the government import cheap labor under B1B visas. Lest you think I’m some disgruntled union worker, I would add that I’ve never in 28 years of manufacturing work held a union job. I wasn’t fortunate enough to have a union fighting for me….

    In ’81, when I entered manufacturing as a tech, I had plenty of schooling and electronics experience. 3 years electrical engineering college followed by 4 years in the military. Health problems had forced me out of school, and I lost my scholarship. I had a partial recovery and joined the military to earn the GI Bill. The very month I got my honorable discharge, Congress altered the program in a way that prevented me from using it. I was denied the GI bill I had earned. The schools told me I needed to start over from scratch because of my 4 year absence. And I was still paying off the loans from my previous college, so I didn’t have the funding. So I went to work in manufacturing as an electronic tech.

    My skills in electronics were highly regarded. Early on I was assigned design work normally reserved for degreed engineers. But I was denied education assistance by four successive employers over the next 12 years. I eventually stopped asking. They were plenty happy to keep me as a tech. All during this long period I noticed that the industry was constantly touting a shortage of skilled labor. But I watched techs and engineers work in maintenance jobs, stock rooms, and low skilled production jobs. Many just dropped out, completely discouraged. These were hard working people with good skills or educations. Despite my early success, I fought continually for the priviledge to continue using my skills. Management stopped reviewing people, and promoting from within. They stopped training and seminars. And stopped upgrading capitol equipment. They completely disrespected the fact that blue collar workers have career paths too!

    Government moves to open “free trade” started the exodus to Mexico, Korea, etc. It never was an issue of wages. It was an issue of greed. All the profit was going into the pockets of the executives. And productivity took a hit, because no one was investing in new capital equipment. How COULD we compete? Thanks to the propaganda campaign the businesses and their trade groups waged, the state and federal goverments got the notion that the solution to the skilled labor “shortage” was to fund technical schools and flood the market with techs. By 1985, there were EIGHT schools in my home town of Tampa pumping out at least 250 electronics techs per quarter. Even though my skills and education were superior, my employers used the availability of these new graduates as an excuse to limit my pay and promotion.

    In ’89 I was still unprepared to pay for a 4 year electrical engineering program. And my co-workers with degrees were not keeping their jobs. But I’d read dozens of articles (such as this one) declaring a severe shortage of skilled machinists. So I finally quit work, and went to machinists school. My instructor said I was one of the best students he’d ever had… So what happened? NO JOBS. I canvassed the east coast for a year looking. Even offered to work for two weeks for free to prove myself. I heard every excuse. “You’re too old to start a career in machining.” (I was 36.) “You don’t have experience in Model XYZ CNC.” “You wouldn’t be happy here. I’d have to keep you at the stock cutoff saw for 5 years and you’d have to wait for someone else to retire.”

    So I returned to electronics AT A PAY CUT. My punishment for taking a year getting some additional schooling.. After a succession of jobs and layoffs, I hired on with my present employer to do electronics in 2000. But they had some 40 – 50 year old manual machine tools in the back of the plant. “Could you design and build our tooling and test fixtures?”

    So now I languish on these old relics, while I watch my co-workers gradually get laid off. I wonder if I will be next. Who will hire me, after 9 years absence from electronics? And who wants a machinist with experience only on manual machines?

    Don’t tell me about a “shortage” of skilled workers. You want someone to run a screw machine? Find someone with some brains, common sense, and the ability to learn, and TRAIN THEM.


  4. Jim C.

    I apologize for rambling so long, and making this a “rant”. I’ll admit I do have more than a few grudges after all these years. But I also feel for all the qualified people I have seen tossed aside over the years. I see the auto companies getting blasted by people who are itching to see them fail. And I think about all the good people who will be out of work.


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