As municipal, state, education and industry leaders gathered to celebrate their union as part of the Waccamaw Workforce Investment Board, they got an earful of the work yet to do by Edward E. Gordon, the keynote speaker at the organization’s second annual symposium.
Citing the planned expansion of the BMW plant in South Carolina and the falling unemployment rate, Gordon said it was indicative of the expertise of the workforce in the state.
But he also warned of the problems yet ahead.
“You and the other states around you represent the new South. We’re not going to have a workforce meltdown here in this state,” he said.
He pointed out that throughout the United States there are 30 million people who are unemployed or underemployed, yet there are 6.7 million unfilled positions according to his data.
Closer to home, Gordon called the 8.6 percent unemployment rate “way too high. But it’s been a lot higher,” he said.
He said there’s a workforce of 2.1 million people and an unemployed workforce of 183,000 people, “yet you have 16,000 vacant jobs across this state right now.”
He noted that this problem is not a conspiracy by the liberals or conservatives, the Republicans or the Democrats, nor, he added is this because public education hasn’t tried or parents don’t care.
“You know,” he said, “more and more it seems to me that the U.S. is not going to end with a big bang. Instead, it’s going to experience a slow, grinding halt if a lot of our technologies start to break down and we just don’t have the skilled people anymore to fix it.”
He warned that if the talent creation system is not revamped, that by 2020, we will not have 6.7 million vacant jobs, we’ll have 24 million.
Business did not escape Gordon’s pointed remarks. “Business needs trained workers, yet they refuse to train,” he said
“Nationwide, businesses are sitting on $4 trillion in cash right now because they are afraid to spend it.”
He said that he shared a plane with two young men, one of whom was a carpenter brought in to fix houses that had been “destroyed by people who didn’t know what they were doing because they did not have apprenticeship training,” the other a welder from Iowa, who was being brought in to do the same thing. “You’ll be seeing a lot more of this,” he said.
He lauded the formation of cooperative partnerships formed by businesses and career high schools to increase training.
He cited city after city that had joined what he called “Retains” to keep and retrain for positions that would benefit the municipalities, states and businesses.
“I could go on and on and on. There are 1,000 Retains across the United States, where business people are taking money out of their own pockets and putting it where their mouth is now, and local political leaders and government officials are bending the rules. They are shaking up the system. They are getting waivers. They are changing the way they do business because they want to survive, they want their communities to grow and they realize that the old system isn’t gonna work right anymore.”
Gordon noted that liberal arts academies have been set up throughout the local communities.
“You need liberal arts because you need to be able to read,” he said.
He told his students when he taught at Northwestern that the shelf life of a technical education is five years.
“When you come out of high school, you need to be able to read, to do math at the 12th grade level, but 66 percent of the people who come out of high school can’t do that,” he said.
Gordon said career academies do not have a goal of turning students into worker drones, but rather to stop the dropout epidemic that is sweeping South Carolina and other states.
“You need to stop competing against each other and to work together to train future workers,” Gordon said. “Look at your strengths and build from there.”
“The idea is to gradually update the system, to change the regulatory system. Together, you can do it.”
By Anita Crone
For The Times
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