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Manufacturer sounds off on skills gap, wages

  • Blog Post by: Eric Wieffering
  • January 19, 2012 - 3:01 PM

Erick Ajax, co-owner of a Fridley-based manufacturer, EJ Ajax and Sons, takes issue with a recent post about manufacturing wage growth in the U.S.

Normally, these responses would appear in the comments that follow a post. And I rarely respond to those comments because I figure I've already had my piece.

At Erick's request I'm posting this as a blog post. But I feel it's necessary to point out that he mischaracterizes a couple of things I said.

  • One: the point was not to compare wage and benefits in Europe vs. the U.S., but the growth in wage and benefits during the period measured. In the U.S., wages remained almost flat -  a fact that surely discourages people from pursuing those careers.
  • Two: Some people are advising young people not to go to college. My original post included a link to such an instance. On this fact, both Erick and Eric are in agreement: post-high school education is mandatory in today's economy.

Now, on to Mr. Ajax:

As an employer who has hired 12 manufacturing workers in the past 12 months, I strongly disagree with Eric Wieffering’s January 10 blog post, “Jobs Go Away, Pay Stays Flat.”

The shortage of skilled workers is very real, and getting worse. National surveys conducted by McKinsey Global Institute show that two-thirds of employers cannot find qualified applicants for their open positions. The International Monetary Fund estimates that eliminating the skills mismatch could lower national unemployment by up to 2.5 percent. (For more on the skills gap, go to www.skillsatwork.org.)

Mr. Wieffering supports his argument with an irrelevant comparison of median manufacturing wages in the U.S. vs. Western Europe. The comparison would only be meaningful if accompanied by complete information about cost of living, tax rates, and the availability of employment.

The $34.74/hour median manufacturing wage cited by Mr. Wieffering translates to more than $70,000 a year base pay and benefits, before overtime. That is certainly a wage that would enable a Minnesota family to live with dignity. The meaningful comparison, therefore, isn’t with European wages, since moving to Europe is not a realistic option for most people. The true comparison is between middle-skills jobs in manufacturing and service-sector positions where the pay is much lower.

Finally, let me be clear that nobody is telling Minnesota high school students to “skip college.” According to Skills@Work, 70 percent of Minnesota jobs will require education beyond high school by 2018. Many Minnesota manufacturing companies, including mine, offer generous tuition reimbursement programs to entry-level employees who want to study engineering, purchasing, quality control, Lean manufacturing and other needed skills.
 

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