Educated factory workers
TRAINING: In the past, a high-school diploma was acceptable for blue-collar jobs in the US. Not anymore. These days, as factory jobs become more and more technical, many companies are demanding academic qualifications from their employees.
“In our factories, there’s a computer about every 20 or 30 feet,” explains Eric Spiegel, former president and CEO of Siemens USA. “People on the plant floor need to be much more skilled than they were in the past. There are no jobs for high school graduates at Siemens today,” Spiegel told The New York Times.
The same is true of the agricultural equipment company John Deere, which cooperates with local community colleges to train potential staff. “The toolbox is now a computer,” comments Andy Winnett, director of the John Deere agricultural programme at Walla Walla Community College in the state of Washington.
Compared to bachelor’s degrees, community college training is often seen as less valuable. Yet community college graduates in middle-skill jobs such as computer technology and manufacturing often earn more than university graduates, according to Dr Anthony P. Carnevale, director of the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. Carnevale’s research indicates that 40 per cent of middle-skill jobs have salaries of over $55,000 a year; 14 per cent pay over $80,000 annually. The median salary for young graduates with bachelor’s degrees is $50,000.
"The toolbox is now a computer." Andy Winnett
In 2011, Siemens created an apprenticeship programme to train staff for its gas turbine production plant in Charlotte, North Carolina. The programme allowed students in their final year of high school to combine on-the-job training with a degree in mechatronics at Central Piedmont Community College.
At the end of their training, the students are debt-free and can step into jobs paying over $50,000. “These are not positions for under-achievers,” says Roger Collins, who recruits apprentices for Siemens.
Chad Robinson, one of the top ten graduates at his high school, is now a Siemens apprentice. Robinson had been accepted into an engineering degree programme but decided to do an apprenticeship instead — to the initial dismay of his parents. “They were very against it,” Robinson explains.
His parents changed their minds, however, after attending a Siemens open house. “A lot of my friends who majored in engineering in college told me they wish they had done the apprenticeship because my work experience will put me ahead of everyone else,” Robinson says.