Saturday, September 27, 2014

Rural workers unqualified for high skill manufacturing jobs

Many rural areas are among the poorest in the nation. One reason for this problem is availability of jobs. Further, high paying jobs in rural communities are scarce. But another obstacle rural workers face is the increase in knowledge-based jobs. Today's manufacturing jobs often require skill sets unlike the assembly line days of the past.

Indiana is home to many rural communities. Almost half of Indiana's counties are classified as rural. Indiana is also the top manufacturing state in the nation. In Indiana, the number of manufacturing jobs has been restored to pre-recession levels, but the labor force available in rural communities cannot fill them. Many of these manufacturing companies are related to the automotive and metal machining industry. For example the Fortune 500 companies Cummins Engines and Steel Dynamics are located in Indiana. 

Brazil, Indiana is the county seat of rural Clay County. Brazil is home to three companies that fit Indiana's high tech manufacturing profile well. Great Dane TrailersBritt Aero, and Morris Manufacturing are all located in Brazil. Great Dane makes trailers for big rig trucks, while Britt Aero and Morris Manufacturing make tools and metal parts. 

Brazil has an interesting economic problem: they have jobs, but an insufficient qualified labor force. These three companies are searching nationwide for qualified workers because local workers are not qualified for their jobs. Economist Robert Guell says “You have a group of people who need jobs, want jobs. They’re ill-suited to the jobs that are available.” 

A report by the Rural Urban Entrepreneurship Institute at Indiana State University explains this conundrum. According to the report advanced manufacturing is among the areas leading the resurgence in manufacturing jobs. But these advanced manufacturing jobs require higher education and training. 

Rural economies need jobs, but they also need training. Proper training of local workers can help manufacturers keep jobs local and improve rural economies. The manufacturing business should support vocational and trade schools to come to Indiana. These businesses could also lobby the state legislature to provide more funding for high school shop classes. This will provide students with unique job skills before they enter the workforce.


Enrique Fernandez said...

Great post, David. This is definitely a topic worth much examination. My general thought is that partnerships with private industry and community colleges may be a solution to alleviating the inadequacy of the workforce training for rural people. I think that if the federal and state governments were to invest more in job training programs, both rural people and commerce in rural areas would benefit.

Damon Alimouri said...

Nice post. My question is: what accounts for this disparity? Why are rural workers bereft of the sort of education required for contemporary industrialized work?

I think, as with most things, this disparity is a microcosm of a general trend in this nation. Increasingly, standards of education are lowering, at least in comparison to other advanced and advancing nations. Why this regression?

I believe this decrease in the quality of education and the amount of Americans accessing education stems from an overall decrease in demand for labor. At the height of its power, in the 1950s, the United States economy necessitated all kinds of skilled labor, thus that was the most fruitful era for American universities.

Did you know that in the mid twentieth century the United States produced 60% of the worlds manufactured products? Today it only produces a fifth of the worlds manufactured products.

Desi Fairly said...

The lack of domestic talent could potentially make way for foreign workers. H1-B visas allow for US employers to hire workers in a specialty occupation (or fashion models, randomly.)

On the one hand, critics say that is an example of non-citizens taking American jobs. On the other hand, it seems that US industry should have access to an adequate work force, whatever may be the source. Although there is a cap on the yearly number of H1B visas, perhaps an influx of H1B workers would inspire more education centers to train the local workforce.

Rueters has an interesting article about new proposed expansions to the H1B visa provisions:

Juliana said...

Interesting post. I'm curious how the labor mismatch in rural communities might fit into the idea of rural knowledge? Are the two related at all? Perhaps manufacturing jobs aren't intrinsically rural, but happen to exist in rural areas. But in the agriculture industry, has technology surpassed rural knowledge?

Another interesting point this post brings up is the increased need for a higher education degree in today's job market. I know this is an issue everywhere, but its noteworthy to point out how it's impacting rural communities.

Kate said...

David, I loved your post. My family is originally from rural Indiana. I had no idea that Indiana was the top manufacturing state in the nation. It is so interesting that there are jobs available, but that the labor force is not qualified for these positions. This local might be ripe for a technical school. I wonder how much demand there is for these positions and what they pay, as you would think that the labor force would adapt somehow to meet this demand if the pay was high enough. Good post.