Monday, February 20, 2012

"A bunch of lazy Americans"

With an intro like that, it's easy to own the best line in a recent article about shortages in skilled labor for manufacturing, which quoted a Michigan welder reasoning that shortages probably reflect how lazy Americans "don't want to get their hands dirty anymore ... [t]hey want an office job."

There's been a lot of emphasis in the media and politics about manufacturing, as discussed recently by Christina Romer, who questioned whether there's really any market failure that ought to prompt government intervention. This article was interesting because it provided some insights into the worker-employer matching process in manufacturing.

One point was that technical change in manufacturing has made a lot of workers' skills obsolete. Some of the unemployed had returned to community college for technology-focused associate's degrees, and the article's description of the production process made it clear why. Automation improves efficiency but still requires labor skilled enough to supervise the automation.

Another was related to the welder's point. Working on a production line requires more physical labor than designing the materials to be produced, even though, as the article also pointed out, physical labor might be paid more per hour.  (It probably is also more exhausting per hour!)

Needless to say, service jobs aren't physically undemanding either. But after reading this article, it wasn't difficult to see why young labor might choose not to aim for a career in manufacturing.