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Wanted: Factory Workers, Degree Required (nytimes.com)
143 points by robertgk 238 days ago | hide | past | web | 157 comments | favorite

This doesn't sound like a higher education problem - it sounds like an education problem. If adults can't pass a "screening test geared toward a ninth-grade education", we're either teaching the wrong things (useless subjects with no practical applications) or we're teaching it the wrong way. Higher education is too late to solve this.

Requiring degrees, I agree that's a problem. People should do degrees for academic purposes. And while there's undeniably an association between "smart"/"clever" and "degree", the real issue is the feature creep. Put simply, because of lack of other standards, either from education or industry, a degree is now the easiest way to determine if someone is, well, reliable/hard-working without taking a gamble. While I'm sure it isn't perfect, licensing like lawyers (the bar in the US) or electricians (at least in the UK) have is a potential work-around for this.

As an aside, I strongly believe a gap year between school and college/university is underrated. Everybody I've met who worked for a year or more beforehand had a different approach to college, and got more out of it. It also gives you the chance of discovering non-academic pursuits you enjoy, and maybe deciding college isn't such a big deal along the way. Gap years are a huge missed opportunity for both individuals and industry.

>This doesn't sound like a higher education problem - it sounds like an education problem.

The story isn't really about "higher education" in the traditional meaning. It's about taking the blue-collar apprenticeship & training model and calling _that_ a "college degree". Since blue collar schooling (apprenticeships) and blue collar careers (e.g. factory workers) have a social stigma, some folks in the article are saying "degree required" should be expanded to mean "apprenticeship required". The last sentence of the article highlights this re-labeling:

>“And whatever you do with training, you need to call it college. You want to make people feel good about the path they choose.”

Other sentences in that article on that same theme:

> But the college-for-all movement, [...], is often conflated with earning a bachelor’s degree.

> “Higher ed,” he said, “needs to respect the dignity of labor.”

E.g. the prospective factory worker attends training at a community college for 2 years and gets a credential that's not a traditional bachelor's degree -- maybe a Completion Certificate and call _that_ the "college degree required". That's the idiosyncratic meaning of "Degree Required" specific to the NYT article's title.

>> The story isn't really about "higher education" in the traditional meaning. It's about taking the blue-collar apprenticeship & training model and calling _that_ a "college degree".

When I was in high school, we had vocational classes. I took electronics, others took small engine repair, welding, or drafting. Hands on classes that in some cases require applied math. I think these are mostly gone in the US today with everyone demanding higher achievement is pure STEM classes. I'm not sure what the "T" for technology is in high school, but I fear people may thing it means the ability to use Word and PowerPoint.

The loss of those classes bothers me. My 10th grader just finished a class in Sheet Metal Fabrication and loved it. He's now taking Welding and plans to do Electronics next year. He signed up for sewing, but it was cancelled due to lack of interest. I can't remember the last time he was that interested in anything at school

What's his motivation? He wanted to make costumes for ComicCon and accidentally found something he really enjoys doing.

These classes are increasingly rare. Our school district is primarily rural kids, and skills like the above are obviously useful on farms. But the reality is that pushing everyone to college ignores that there are many very smart kids out there who have no interest in college-level academics, or will simply not thrive in that environment. However, they may be fantastic machinists, CAD technicians, electricians, etc.

College-bound kids should be taking those classes too. I saw the same thing when I was in high school: they treated things like auto shop as things that college-bound kids shouldn't be doing. So you wind up with college kids who have absolutely no hands-on ability and no understanding of the machines that enable their lives, and then these kids go into engineering school and have no idea how to actually build things that really work.

A machinist should not know more about metals properties and how to make things out of metal than a mechanical engineer. The machinist should know more about the particulars of operating a particular machine tool, since he uses it every day, but the mechanical engineer should know more about how to actually make physical things that work, and not just theory. So a class in machining, IMO, is absolutely essential for a ME major. Same thing for EEs and electricians; if a EE can't use hands-on skills to troubleshoot his design, he's a failure of a EE.

I have a degree in Mech Eng from an "elite" college in the UK, and welding, machining etc were required courses. How can you design something without understanding how it will be fabricated or maintained?

Agreed, I loved metal shop in junior high. Neither my family nor friends had a shop where I could learn skills like casting and welding. However, rather than modernizing these shops with CNC mills and 3D printers (for example), schools seem to just be shutting them down instead.

On the plus side, the cost of doing these things at home has been dropping. My 10 y/o daughter gets to play/learn/experiment with all kinds of stuff that I could hardly touch at her age. Arduinos and modern LEDs make for awesome electronics projects that wow her classmates, but are still cheap enough that she can smoke a part now and then. Fabrication costs are dropping thanks to 3D printers, opening a world that used to require a mill/lathe/etc. to get into. Sewing remains a low-cost hobby that lets you build very cool stuff (and for boys, too!).

Of course, it still requires a nerdy family with disposable income to provide this kind of workshop for kids. I've done a lot of projects with my daughter and her friends. For more kids to have that kind of opportunity, however, the schools are really the best place for it.

Buy him a sewing machine (assuming you don't have one) and some supplies. There are tons of videos online to teach technique, and it isn't terribly expensive.

> people may thing it means the ability to use Word and PowerPoint.

That's what it means these days... as someone who went through the "Advanced Technology" courses in high school... I learned Pivot Tables in Excel... as opposed to programming or something else.

I used to teach at a high school in rural Wisconsin. The vocational classes you mention are still offered with good connections/support from the local manufacturing industry.

This may not be as true as it once was, but they're still alive, kicking, and well attended.

As you've said terminology is important. And yes, I read the article :) . I disagree with it slightly, what I'm arguing for is not to dilute the meaning of degree, because that playing field is always going to be uneven in favour of academia. I don't think calling it a degree is helping anybody. If anything it will just cause people to look at the reputation of the institution. (Obviously that already happens a bit, but it's not too bad.)

In the UK, they allowed polytechnics (roughly the same as institutes of technology I think) to become universities and award degrees. So while more people were awarded degrees, the reputations did not translate so well. (I think - I welcome rebuttals though.) A consequence of this is that employers put screening tests in place or made them more difficult. These tests favour academic skills. To be fair, a quick screening test will never reflect practical skill well - so it's important the "degrees" or whatever we're calling them called do!

Personally, I think there is something lost when you stop using terminology with practical connotations and start using terminology that has academic connotations. People then except roughly the same, so the practical aspect is in danger of being deemphasised. This differentiation is inherently valuable. But I will admit that this rebranding might be a quick, practical fix. I'm just not convinced it's right in the long run.

There's a real opportunity to create programs that aren't degrees, but of equal high repute and quality, and are proud of that. Although there are problems I can see with that. One being that college lifestyle is attractive to students, and therefore lucrative.

Edit: Or maybe not, what do I know. Maybe the ones we have are good enough, and it is just an image problem? I find that hard to believe, as that would be a costly misconception for businesses. There's also the possibility that college degrees are too ubiquitous, and the labour market will provide enough people fitting that criteria. If we've made it too easy and too common to obtain a degree, then the education system needs rethinking.

At the end of the day, I think we agree that improving education is a good thing, and the earlier the better (in both senses).

Polytechnics only really served the "higher " qualifications for associate professionals i.e. those who had done an Apprenticeship and then went on to an ONC HNC.

You could also join direct from school with O / A levels

Polytechnics themselves could always award degrees, however they were validated by CNAA.

Now they can award degrees by their own authority.

I don't know???

A lot of the examples they give, whether it is in a factory or in some sort of repair tech capacity, make it seem as if FLEXIBILITY is the issue. I think they are testing to make sure that the candidates have some requisite base level understanding of the principles underlying the technology to be able to adapt to any changes in higher level essentials that may need to be made in the field or on the floor. (My reading could be wrong, but I doubt it.) If what Seimens et al want is the ability to be flexible, I can certainly understand why they skew towards candidates with college degrees. Frankly I've found that college grads absorb new technological principles far more easily that tech school grads. If your tech won't change, the tech school grad is fine. But if you think things may shift in the future, you're going to need some college grads. (Just my experience, YMMV.)

Maybe we should be thinking about how to "teach" more "flexibility", (if that's even possible?), at the high school and college level. We would need to have a better understanding of it though.

I know companies are calling it "flexibility"... but consider... is it more "adaptability" companies are looking for? Or is it actually "creativity" that they are seeking?

Is it both?

I don't know if we have a good understanding of that right now???

Whatever college is doing to confer that flexibility to its graduates is what we need more of. If we want to change high school or tech school in the future to confer that ability, that would be fine. But you have to keep in mind that Seimens needs workers today, not in the future. So the only solution they have TODAY is to mandate college degrees.

>If what Seimens et al want is flexibility, I can certainly understand why they skew towards candidates with college degrees.

The story isn't really about Siemens. It's about trying to convince readers of what a "college degree" can mean in the future. If you look at the background of the author Jeffrey J. Selingo[1], you'll see he previously wrote about traditional college coursework not serving the needs of blue-collar workers that don't need 4-year degrees. He echoes many of the same sentiments by Mike Rowe ("Dirty Jobs")[2] about giving apprenticeships and factory jobs more respect.

To go back to Siemens as one example, the article states:

>, Siemens in 2011 created an apprenticeship program for seniors at local high schools that combines four years of on-the-job training with an associate degree in mechatronics from nearby Central Piedmont Community College.

Today, that type of 2-year training is not as prestigious as a traditional 4-year degree. The writer is simply using Siemens as a case study of changing the public's attitude about "higher education".

[1] http://jeffselingo.com/book/college-un-bound/

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qzKzu86Agg0&feature=youtu.be...

No, the story isn't about redefining college degrees. The model used by Siemens and Switzerland is certainly not about reshaping college degrees to better serve technicians, but about updating apprenticeship programs (esp in the US) and applying them to more than the traditional building trades.

It's also about the need for preparing the 70% of students who are not destined to white collar college jobs with the essential skills to work at a higher intellectual level than old-school US heavy industry manufacturing demanded. The days of unskilled assembly on the line are gone, everywhere. It's common today, esp. in China, for factories to adapt quickly to fabricate new lines of product in smaller batches, and do so without having years of experience in doing that already. This model of rapid development AND production appears to be the new model for production lines everywhere. As such, manufacturing now requires substantial computerization, and those running the machines aren't just lifting parts into place and wrenching bolts any more. The next generation of production worker needs to be computer literate and capable of quickly learning and adapting to a changing environment -- like training a robot. And the current models of training in high school and college do not serve that need.

>No, the story isn't about redefining college degrees.

You're misunderstanding what I wrote. I'm not saying that universities like Harvard and Yale need to add "Bachelor's of Science in Air Conditioning & Plumbing" in addition to "B.S. Physics" and "B.S. English" to their curriculum to serve blue collar workers. I'm also not saying that existing college degrees' curriculums need modification to accommodate future factory workers.

This is what the author is saying:

1) regardless of what you label it, there's a new crop of "training" emerging to educate future factory workers to run more sophisticated machines. (E.g. John Deere and Siemens were examples.) Some of the new machines require more complex math and more complicated interaction. This new knowledge is not a traditional 4-year college degree but something like a 2-year Associate Degree in Mechanical Operations.

2) A problem still remains: that training and related career is a lower social rank than the traditional 4-year bachelor's degree even in a classless society like America. (E.g. see the Mike Row video I linked.)

3) To try and counteract that negative social stigma, the author is trying to convince us to expand the meaning of "college degree" to include that non-traditional apprenticeship training so high-school kids who choose the JohnDeere/Siemens Training path do not feel like losers in society compared to the kids who go to university and study Accounting/Law/Physics/etc.

"Bachelor's of Science in Air Conditioning & Plumbing" that would be thermofluids very useful if you want to work for a f1 team aerospace nuclear etc :-)

My comment wasn't about Seimens either. It's about the central problem. Which is that companies, and society, want "flexible" employees, but we currently turn out "trained" employees. So there is an impedance mismatch there. And that is what puts society in the bind.

For instance, in the Seimens program you mentioned, what happens if Seimens closes up shop and moves to Brazil? Is the vo-tech grad with years of Seimens specific training and experience going to be flexible enough to take a job at another tech firm? I'm honestly unsure that would be the case. Whereas, if he had a math, science or engineering degree from Georgia Tech, Nebraska or Arkansas... I would be a COMPLETELY comfortable hiring him.

So we're getting into this unemployment situation because factories or other jobs move, and leave behind workers who are not flexible enough to thrive in a different industry.

(By we, I meant society.)

  For instance, in the [Siemens] program you mentioned, what 
  happens if [Siemens] closes up shop and moves to Brazil? 
  Is the vo-tech grad with years of [Siemens] specific training
  and experience going to be flexible enough to take a job at 
  another tech firm? I'm honestly unsure that would be the case.
One difference between the programs described in the article and apprenticeships as they work in Switzerland or Germany is that in the latter countries, the professional degrees are standardized as well, so you don't get a degree as a "Siemens Widget Wrangler", but as a "Polymechanic" (despite having done the same combination of working for Siemens and going to school that you might have done in the US). The standardization is supposed to make it simpler to move between employers.

I'm not so sure it's about flexibility. If these roles are changing to involve more computers (software is eating the world) and require more computer skills, it's something many traditional apprentices lack while they are good with their hands. I wish the author had given more concrete examples of what these real world requirements are.

> This doesn't sound like a higher education problem

I agree with you. The problem is that many high school graduates are functionally illiterate and innumerate. Those that are not manage to go to college and graduate. Employers have noticed this and are using a Bachelor's Degree as a screening criteria for basic literacy. The root cause of the problem is long before college. When the article says that advanced math is needed for tractor repair, they don't mean anything that would be studied in a math major. They mean competence with arithmetic and very basic algebra such as understanding how to plug measured numbers into a formula and calculate the result using a calculator, in addition to the ability to follow simple step by step instructions in a repair manual which is generously illustrated.

This, so much. I worked tech support to put myself through school and I can't believe the number of people who simply can't follow basic instruction. Like how to log in to an account basic. Or use a password manager. I could go on, but I'd fill this tiny box with so many examples I'd look like a crazy person. Nothing has made me believe this more than working tech support.

That sounds like a much bigger problem. Forget the extra unecessary student debt, what are we going to do with those who are functionally illiterate? And how is this even possible?

The problem seems to be really one of oversupply, coupled with businesses who are afraid of discrimination lawsuits. Employers who are desperate to find people are not in a position to make any demands about their employees, but when you have hundreds of people lining up at your door looking for a job, you have no choice but to be picky. And being picky requires something to be picky about. Education is one of the only criteria left that won't run the risk of putting you under legal scrutiny.

It really has nothing to do with the degree at all. It's just a poor-man's filtering mechanism in the absence of anything better.

Oversupply, or in other words lack of demand for labour. Approximately everybody needs a job.

Surprisingly, in the US, the number of vacant jobs is almost equal to the number who are unemployed. Virtually everyone could have a job. However, people are attracted to certain kinds of jobs, so you get long lineups for them, necessitating the need to cull applicants, and nobody lining up for others, which is where employers cannot be picky.

Requiring an unnecessary college degree for a job is the last bastion of acceptable racism in the US.

how is that racist?

It's an interesting question to an interesting suggestion. The dictionary defines race as a grouping of people by supposed genetic traits. Recent research has suggested that performance in school is largely heritable[1]. It is clear that the school system does group people by their academic ability.

I, first hand, have experienced antagonism on several occasions for not having a degree. My struggles in lower-levels of school actively prevented me from even considering trying to get one. Given the above, it does seem that, strictly speaking, it could be categorized as racism, although perhaps not colloquially so.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/jul/23/genes-influe...

Some races are far less likely to have a college degree than others.

"A doesn't hire workers who X" and "members of group Q are more likely to X" therefore "A discriminates against group Q"? "Members of group R are more likely to X" doesn't enter into the equation?

Classism, maybe, but in no way is it racism.

>If adults can't pass a "screening test geared toward a ninth-grade education", we're either teaching the wrong things (useless subjects with no practical applications) or we're teaching it the wrong way. Higher education is too late to solve this.

Agreed, but the public is equally opposed to standardized tests, the only way to detect that the schools are placing a student in 11th grade despite being functionally illiterate.

"Fewer than 15 percent of the applicants were able to pass a reading, writing and math screening test geared toward a ninth-grade education." That's a low standard. This is in North Carolina, which is ranked 24th nationally. New Mexico is at the bottom.

California used to have the California High School Exit Examination, required for a high school diploma. The fail rate was about 10%. That was suspended in 2016, but may come back in 2018. From 2006 to 2015, a California high school diploma meant something.

To be honest, not sure how well I would do in such a test. Other than simple household math etc I had little contact with anything I once learned at school.

Use it or loose it. I'm sure I could relearn most of it quickly, but after a few years working I just know whatever I needed for my job. And I consider myself a very skilled expert in the little niche I'm working in.

In Portugal a gap year is seen as a failure to meet university requirements.

Only those that need to save some money for the university or failed exams do gap years.

A gap year is pretty uncommon in the US.

But virtually any high school graduate can get admitted to a community college or a state university.

I will admit I did it to save money, although it was kind of forced on me via military service. Different cultures I guess, in Germany somebody not relying on their parents/the state is seen as a good thing.

Yes, now that I have been living here for several years I would do it differently, but the culture hasn't changed much in last couple of years.

You also will never see young children going to primary school on their own.

:-) in the uk a gap Yah is seen as an extended holiday for posh rich kids.

one of the problems is with the push for a BSC the bright kids that in the past would have gone down the vocational track have opted for university - thus diluting the pool of potential recruits

> Ditto at John Deere dealerships, which repair million-dollar farming machinery filled with several dozen computers. Fixing tractors and grain harvesters now requires advanced math and comprehension skills and the ability to solve problems on the fly. “The toolbox is now a computer,”

I don't know about America but here repairing expensive machinery is the job of engineers, not factory worker. The latter's work involve pushing button, soldering, assembling etc.. but not something that require critical thinking or problem solving. Automation is still either 1. more expensive than manual worker (in case of FMS) or 2. only applicable for large scale/high value added manufacturing.

FMS: Flexible Manufacturing System.

As an owner of one of those high-priced John Deere grain harvesters, who has spent plenty of time repairing it, I'm left wondering what advanced math is used? Certainly some of the control systems will contain software that uses advanced math, but I cannot imagine the tech coming out and fixing a bug in that software like that out in the field. In that case, in my experience, it's usually more of a "The computer's broken. Let's replace it completely."

Indeed. It sounds like you'd need the advanced skills to come up with the various diagnostic tests (similar to cars), but at the end of the day they're going to plug it in and say such and such a sensor needs replaced. No math needed. Maybe some very moderate computer skills.

For some of the CNC systems I have had experience with, repairing means figuring out which parts are broken and need to be replaced, sometimes it's just trial and error.

A lot of things can be broken but there are a lot of software and hardware patching that tech do.

During my military service we had a plotter that was used to print aerial and spatial photography it went haywire one day and the HP tech said the alignment heads were screwed.

While he did order a new part he also downloaded the firmware from the device, opened it in a hex editor and manually patched some values to give us some print capability back.

So instead of the print heads not wanting to go beyond half the width of the role it was limited to about 80-85% of the width with more or less even edges.

So even when you need to fix what is effectively macro-machinery there are a lot of things that you need to do and being able to understand EE and programming concepts is a must. The tech wasn't an engineer (BSc./MSc), but most likely had the equivalent of a 2 year engineering degree / programme.

I don't think there are a lot of low and even medium skilled jobs today especially not in anything that relates to manufacturing, repairs and similar fields that one can do without quite a bit of knowledge.

That said even in in the "educated" community information and knowledge has degraded, people don't know how to fix basic things, don't know how to solve problems other than "just google it", I can count on one hand the amount of people I know that can install a dimmer properly without connecting hot to ground.

Yes, at electronics CM's outside of the US there exists a deep spectrum of workers ranging from "operators" (button-pushers), to RMA/debug-techs, to various types of engineers FMA, process, quality, and manufacturing. Capable workers typically move up the chain and free training is provided by the employer (often US-owned companies like Flextronics and Sanmina).

One of the sad things about USA-based manufacturing is that there are very scarce opportunities for the lowest level techs to "climb the ladder". Employers in the US are rigidly fixated on labor as a cost-center rather than as an investment. As a result you have small staff-counts of highly skilled "super-techs" and engineers with degrees, it has stabilized to this in the last ~20 years.

Its really great that Siemens is introducing such an apprentice program to the US. Hopefully others will follow the model.

I don't think it's limited to manufacturing. If you aren't already an expert in the technology companies won't hire you in IT/Development either.

Same here in Germany, in many companies experience on side projects doesn't count.

It has to be officially on the job, preferably even mentioned on the letter of reference given by the employer or alongside some certificate.

Engineers are needed to create the diagnostic and repair procedures but skilled technicians can and should be the ones to implement them.

"Fault detected. Replace Sub-Assembly D, Board 3." is the kind of instruction that can be given to a factory worker to complete a repair. An engineer's time would be wasted performing this kind of work.

Someone who repairs farm equipment would generally be called a "mechanic" around here (upstate New York).

The US military has had technical MOSes (mil. occupational specialty) for 40+ years that require specialized skills to maintain and repair the many nav, sensor, and weapons platforms they use. These definitely aren't mechanics. They often require ~two years of specialized training prior to 'shipping out'.

Maybe the Navy's BEEP (Basic Electricity Electronics 'P') schools also should be looked to as how we might prepare specialists for future trades.

Not sure about farming but here in Ohio, I've heard similar roles in other domains called an "engineering tech" [1].

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Engineering_technician

In AZ we now have drywall techs and landscape engineers. Don't assume these lofty new names accompany any sort of rise in wages, it's merely newspeak.

> But to succeed in programs like those at Walla Walla, students need to take advanced math and writing in high school, academics typically encouraged only for those going on to four-year colleges.

I don't really know much about these positions but I'm having a hard time buying that advanced math is required here.

Maybe my high school was an outlier but "advanced math" consisted of one course: calculus. Even as a developer, it's not something I've ever needed professionally. English was the same whether you were on the college track or apprentice track and more students, say 3 to 1 went into an apprenticeship, or industrial tech skills type role vs went to a university.

I get that the roles are changing from 10–15 years ago, but making the requirements sound inflated is misleading or confusing at best and could discourage good applicants or cause them to undertake an unnecessary amount of debt at worst.

Considering the fact that the adults mentioned in the article can't pass a 9th grade test, I think advanced math refers to "Algebra 2", or "Geometry" here, rather than calc/precalc.

They are referring to Algebra I.

In 2007 in college, my class group and I did a presentation promoting outsourcing (an assigned task). But before we did that, we took a deep look at the reasons for outsourcing. The kinds of info we came across blew our minds and the minds of our audience.

The number one reason for outsourcing: it was too difficult to find high-level workers (college degree, managers, technical IT stuff) to work in factories, simply because they did not want to work in a factory "when they grew up".

In a rank of nations where finding high-level factory workers was difficult, Germany was #1 and the United States was #8. The countries on the bottom of the list were China and India, respectively.

If you took a look at the top 10 jobs most difficult to fill in the U.S., Sales Associate was number 1 and high-level factory-based professions were 8 of the top 10.

All info was gathered from a blog post on taleo.com (bought out by another company) and that information can no longer be found.

The second reason for outsourcing: no young person in America wants to spend their time making stupid stuff like pencils and chalks and little american flags . Foreigners would be more than happy to do it though.

The reasons for outsourcing is a lot more complicated than money. And there are nations where wage is cheaper than China and India, but were never able to garner so much attention of manufacturers.

The problem for young people isn't image, but percieved limited future growth potential. Wages for factory workers have been dropping since the 70s.

Wages of professions have shifted to other directions. While wages of low-level workers may be low and getting lower, the supply is still high. Conversely, wages of higher level workers are relatively higher but the work is a lot more intense, has more hours, and poor working environment.

> The second reason for outsourcing: no young person in America wants to spend their time making stupid stuff like pencils and chalks and little american flags . Foreigners would be more than happy to do it though.

They find it just as boring over there. It's a job people everywhere do because they get paid to, not because the want to.

I don't have much compassion for companies that are having trouble finding skilled people, but do not have a training program. The government should supply a solid liberal arts education.

However, "John Deere, for example, has designed a curriculum and donated farm equipment to several community colleges to train technicians for its dealer network. "

Sounds like John Deere is trying to get off cheaper. This is different than the complaint that Siemens had with basic education.

So true. Why are high school graduates unable to repair John Deere tractors? Well, maybe because they need some training. Why should they pay for a university degree? Which degree? Mechanical engineering? No. Computer Science? Also no. There is no degree in John Deere tractors. Donating your equipment to schools won't help. Hire people, train them, and put them to work.

There are companies doing far better though.

For instance CAT has almost free training courses for their equipment. The only thing they don't pay for is your initial travel to the middle of nowhere. (This isn't sales pitch exposure that similar companies do, this is actual training over 6 months to a year).

Nucor Steel also has a tech campus larger than some state universities.

>nearly nine in 10 jobs that disappeared since 2000 were lost to automation in the decades-long march to an information-driven economy, not to workers in other countries.

>Even if those jobs returned, a high school diploma is simply no longer good enough to fill them.

>fewer than 15 percent of the applicants [in Charlotte, N.C] were able to pass a reading, writing and math screening test geared toward a ninth-grade education.

There are going to be some disappointed people who thought all they had to do was vote for a president who would "bring back the jobs". On the plus side, looks like post-secondary education is going to be a valuable commodity as Trump tightens the labor market.

And a Ed. Secretary who is more concerned with vouchers for religious schools than helping public ed...

Maybe public education is causing some of these issues, I don't know too many private school kids who get out of high school and can't read.

Such things seem to be readily accepted in public high schools. I remember in my first year of high school I ended up getting selected for a program where I was to read and write the answers for another kid's final exam since he apparently didn't have the skills and it's not a requirement to finish high school.

I wasn't monitored, so in theory I could have just gave him the answers. Looking back on this now, I'm kind of horrified.

The voucher debate is 100% about using public money to send kids to religious schools. "Education quality" is a smokescreen and largely irrelevant. To test this, propose granting federal vouchers to anyone who asks, but with the limitation that they cannot be used at religious schools. I guarantee voucher supporters would oppose this.

I really don't think so. In fact, if such a ban would mean that vouchers couldn't be used for Islamic and Jewish schools, I suspect the typical voucher supporter would be relieved.

The normal expectation is traditional private schools. Directly cashing the vouchers for homeschooling (books, chemistry set, opportunity cost of lost wages, etc.) is another possibility.

It's also about using public money to fund for-profit diploma mills.

"I don't know too many private school kids who get out of high school and can't read."

I don't know too many private schools who would admit the kind of kid that would finish high school and not be able to read. Public schools don't have that luxury.

Yes, it is possible. But unfettered voucher systems aren't much better in that regard.

To me, she just doesn't have the experience to run the DOEd. And her Reformed Christian bent does not bode well.

I don't think religious schools are inherently bad. I say this as an atheist who went to Catholic high school and now works at one.

The academics in the private religious schools (around here at least) are significantly more rigorous than public schools (which I attended until high school). Certainly there is a strong religious influence. Maybe we're more liberal than some, but evolution is taught as true science. We did get abstinence education, but it was somewhat half-hearted.

Oh I don't doubt there are very high quality private schools, even religious ones.

The problem is there are also abominable ones, and there's no assurance with the voucher systems (as proposed) to discern between them.

Well if those public schools had been better at teaching those students might have been able to pass that test.

Seriously though, here in Denmark we have school vouchers. It means that middle class parents have an option if they don't like their local public school (and a private school is available nearby), it would have cost my parents less than 200 usd/month (less than daycare) to send me to a decent one.

So based on your last two quotes, it's not just technology but the dumbing down of the school system in the US that is creating unemployment problems?

Reminds me of an archeology job offer I once saw in Germany (for a dig). Masters or equivalent degree in archeology, PhD preferred, 6 Euro/h.

Wait. It was _paid_!!?!?!!???

There's a steady supply of archaeology grad students who don't just work for free, but rather _pay_ for the privilege of doing field work. Their only compensation is in false hope and broken dreams.

Serious question, fellow hackers: what is going to happen to the millions upon millions who will be automated out of the only jobs they are capable of doing?

Eventually there will be no need for truck drivers, fast food employees, even housekeeping is becoming more and more automated. How will people find work if a machine can always do it better? How will the less-intelligent find work if all the jobs require education they cannot or will not strive for? What happens to them? What happens to their children? How many people around the world are we willing to support without their working? 100 million? 1 billion? Several billion?

This is a serious and terrifying question. Automation is eating jobs so quickly I don't have any idea what the labor landscape will look like in ten years.

What happens to these people? Who lives? Who eats? Who gets medical attention?

Who pays?

Not a difficult question to answer. Look around you to other countries and situations to understand what happens when jobs disappear.

You either run a welfare state model (Scandinavia, Switzerland) where you guarantee everyone a comfortable minimum lifestyle and support or you implode in civil war that removes the ruling class (Arab Spring nations)

Considering the fact that the "welfare state model" is Socialism, I'm guessing here in the US we're going to go with the second option eventually.

Socialism does not necessarily mean welfare state or vice versa, unless you strictly define socialism as being any government service offered that could potentially be offered by a private firm.

We are socialists as long as we use tax dollars to pay for public police officers and firefighters.

Is it still technically socialism if the public servants answer only to the ruling class, and are almost completely unaccountable to anyone else?

We have already been through this transition before. Two hundred years ago, 90% of the population worked in agriculture. Now only a few percent do. The rest didn't end up unemployed, we invented entirely new industries to meet demands that didn't even exist before.

But I do agree that the speed of the change this time makes the transition period far more dangerous. I think the biggest hurdle is that culture itself will need to change. People have been taught to judge their own worth based on how hard they work. That makes this transition an identity threat, which is even worse than an economic one.

If we can get through the transition period without a horrible war, I am highly confident we will see an economy that's as much beyond ours as ours is beyond 1817. It's very hard to say it will look like (any more than farmers in 1817 could have predicted how I make my living writing software). But as long as there are unmet needs and desires, there is work to be done. And as long as some things are scarce (attention and social prestige seem fundamentally scarce), there will be economies.

Another way to put it is: if most people can access the output of the robot factories, then they won't be poor. If most people can't access the output of the robot factories, then they constitute a big market and there will be plenty of jobs serving each other.

That transition was FAR different than the one we're faced with in the near future. People moved from agriculture to factory jobs, because there was still a massive need for labor. We don't have that today. Someone being displaced as a semi driver isn't going to suddenly hop into an AI startup.

So back to the question: What does that person do? How do they feed and house their family?

People who were displaced out of agriculture didn't necessarily go get factory jobs either. The industrial revolution was massively disruptive socially, and a lot of people didn't come through fine. A lot of them drank themselves to death, much like the opioid crisis today. It was their children who adapted to a new economy.

> So back to the question: What does that person do? How do they feed and house their family?

We need to build the political will to take care of them through guaranteed basic income or equivalent. And even if we do some of them will still drink themselves to death anyway, because they see welfare as shameful.

And the life expectancy of a factory worker was insane. Cities were in a constant population decline, only propped up by people in the country having to find work.

I disagree with your assessment that this is simply a new industrial revolution following the same path as the old.

Farming is hard work but is not necessarily difficult or hard to learn. Same with assembly line factory work.

But when college graduates are put out of the job by neural networks that can analyze information better and faster than the ugly bags of mostly water ever could, what do they do? Where do they work? What kinds of jobs will they have?

And if they cannot find work, what happens to the the income of their hairdresser? Their grocery store clerk? Their barista?

What if they can't find jobs either? What do they do?

ML is fundamentally different from any technological revolution that has come before. Humans have a long history of automating brawn, but not brain.

I refuse to accept hand-waving that things will simply change and be ok as they were before. Machine learning will be the biggest reckoning in the history of humanity even without full-blown artificial intelligence. And nobody knows how it will play out.

> neural networks that can analyze information better and faster than the ugly bags of mostly water ever could

As soon as the above is the case, why should the ugly bags of mostly-water exist anymore?

Because life is more than work. Maybe if we're lucky, we can figure that out in time for the machines to learn from us.

I do not like the condescending tone.

Many factories require highly qualified personel. Manufacturing turbines (specially turbine blades) is highly complicated. CPUs are made in factories...

I agree and don't care for it either. Over time, the things we manufacture will be done by less people, using less energy and materials and it will require rigor to ensure what's manufactured is safe for use.

Over the years, the manufacturing industry will require employees to perform duties that require an engineering mindset and a craftsman discipline. That discipline will be applied more on the processes and machines that perform the manufacturing rather than the products themselves. Repetitive work will become less repetitive. It will require more ingenuity, mental and computer modeling, and a keener understanding of the core sciences.

Education needs to become inexpensive and something people do continuously in their adulthood if we want to remain competitive. We can't treat people like garbage and throw them away when their skillset doesn't align with what the markets demand.

Subsidizing overpriced university educations that pour more money into brochure perks like luxury student housing and competitive football teams is not the answer. For people who need it the most, education needs to be accessible and practical.

competitive football teams are a profit center. non-competitive football teams are money losers.

Is it possible that workable solutions are going to be addressed on a state by state vs federal level?

For example, my home state of California has an extensive community college system that is very good at administering 2 year technically focussed associate programs.

In contrast, a state with a lower population (or college) density might favor apprenticships.

Also, if the stopping point is utilizing custom industrial applications or specialized industrial skills, why can't companies take the initative to make teaching versions available on public facing sites, where students can train and test themselves before applying for jobs? U.S. companies are wealth aggregators with little tax burden in the U.S.; it seems fitting that they should take up some slack since they are so much more reliable funding streams than public institutions. (Although, the article notes John Deere's solution, which was in a very similar vein)

There are few areas that lack the population density to support community colleges.

Wyoming has 7 community colleges for ~600,000 people. They will of course be in the larger towns, but more than 200,000 people live in the 3 largest "metro" areas, and the people that cannot commute to one of the colleges will anyway be facing a high probability of moving to find employment.

In my experience, German companies are particularly bad about having a rigid focus on specific academic credentials, often coupled with an unwillingness to believe that effective learning can occur outside of schools. I do respect their traditional apprenticeship track, but even that seems to be slowly disappearing.

It's not only a company problem here in Germany.

There are special taxation laws for self employed people, but they only apply to "higher services", which can be scientific, artistic, medical or such. Which can you save a few thousand Euros a year.

If you got a degee you're mostly safe, but if you're self-educated in the field, you have to jump through a few hoops.

It's getting better. My first employer hired me for a programming role although my background was in physics, based on my open-source contributions.

Is it? I heard it said 15 years ago: when you need something slapped together quickly go hire a Roumanian or a physicist.

Did you have a full 4 year degree?

You mean BSc? Bachelor degrees often aren't 4 years outside the US.

Yes, a 5-year "Diplom".

I know plenty of smart people who did badly at school but excelled at working with machines including CNC. Some people just learn differently and don't fit into the current school system.

Nearly 2 potential candidates per position, just from a single job fair, excluding applicants who didn't go to the job fair. It's not that bad, is it?

> some 10,000 people showed up at a job fair for 800 positions

Nope it's not that bad, it is in fact between 500 and 600% worse than that.

Traubenfuchs' point is that of 10,000 people, about 1,500 were able to pass the screening test. This means that Siemens can choose from about 2 'qualified' applicants for each of 800 positions, which isn't too bad for Siemens.

But you're correct that for the applicants, no, 12.5:1 is not very good odds for getting a job.

It just baffles me that in a city with supposedly lower-than-ever-before and decent for the country unemployment you'd get a turnout like this.

(source: https://www.bls.gov/news.release/metro.t01.htm Charlotte metropolitan area: 4.5% unemployment, pretty good non-coastal city)

1. Unemployment nubmers do not adequately count the number of people unemployed.

2. The people who show up are not necessarily unemployed.

Well, sure. But the Fed keeps talking that unemployment is now low enough that it's driving up wages, and uh ... not in this case at least.

While percentages are low, you have to remember that 4.5% out of 2.5 million people is over 100K people without jobs.

While the number of unemployment is exceptional for a metro area there is still a human element for those that are "behind."

If there is an acceptable level of unemployment higher than zero percent, we have to take care of those who are unable to work otherwise you start a race to the bottom in work rights and labor laws.

If you're struggling to find qualified workers, simply offer better pay.

I don't think it's that simple. If you have a factory in the middle of Iowa you can't offer $110k/yr and expect people from SF or NYC to move out there, despite the huge gains relative to COL. I think a larger point of the article is that apprentice/blue collar jobs have a social stigma around them, particularly among people who already have degrees, and that artificially limits the applicant pool.

How many people here would quit writing software to work in a factory if it paid more? I'm guessing not many.

Though no one would admit it here I bet a lot more people would jump at that opportunity than you think. It doesn't exist though so there is no way to show who is right. Not to mention having a job like that would give you so much free time and money that you could write gobs of software outside of work if you cared to.

Yes. There are millions of US workers who have been displaced and recognize that all super-subsistence employers have left their area and none are forthcoming. They know they have to move away to find work, but where? If gainful work appeared in the most inhospitable place imaginable but paid a decent wage (the way coal mines in West Virginia used to do), they'd be gone in a shot.

> Though no one would admit it here I bet a lot more people would jump at that opportunity than you think.

I'd strongly consider it, especially if I were younger. But you're right--it would never happen so no way to test the idea.


We used to sit around and say we should have owned a bread truck route. Up at 4 and done by noon.

Then the cell phone was invented and we all lost our jobs.

To be fair, changes are that if you work remotely there's nothing stopping you from working 4-12 every day :)

Market forces don't result in an equitable exchange of value if one party in the transaction can exert control over both supply and demand. The NYT article is presenting a narrative that the public needs to fund increasing the labor supply of skilled technicians so that companies can avoid paying salaries that match the expense and effort that went into obtaining those skills. This is how inequality happens.

>If you have a factory in the middle of Iowa you can't offer $110k/yr and expect people from SF or NYC to move out there, despite the huge gains relative to COL.

Absolutely wrong. If you offer enough money, people will move there.

I have zero desire to move to Iowa personally. But if a company there offered me $400k to take a job there, I'd do it. I can't say that I'd stay there until retirement, but I'd stay a year minimum. That much money makes it worth it. I'm sure many other people would agree. For that much, I could save a lot of money even after just one year, and then go back to one of the coasts where I'm happier and make a big down-payment on a house.

It's very simple supply-and-demand. There's a limited amount of qualified talent, so if you really want to hire them, you need to raise your prices. If that means you're paying the engineers much more than their managers or even the executives, then so be it. If you don't want to pay that much, then you don't really need them that badly. And if you think $400k is really that much money, compare that to how much they'll pay for some CNC machine or other specialized equipment.

You can offer more and still offer a lot less than $110k.

Many manufacturing jobs start between $10 and $20 per hour (probably with not much benefits; an option to purchase employer provided insurance but not much of a contribution towards it and so on).

Not just at rinky dink places either. UAW had tiered agreements with a junior pay class (not sure what current contracts are):


While I probably wouldn't want to go from writing code to working at a factory doing non-code jobs, I could see the advantages in programming robots for a factory in Iowa: what a two bedroom appartment cost in SF is probably what you pay for a large house or ranch in Iowa. Plus the ability to have backyard chicken and a couple free roaming dogs.

I mean, when you're looking where to locate your company/factory, one of the things you have to consider is whether you can attract the type of workers you need. People on this board bag on those who live in NYC, SF, and other high COL areas without being rich all the time. I don't see it any different to bag on those companies that choose to locate in areas where they can't attract people to live.

How many people here would quit writing software to work in a factory if it paid more? I'm guessing not many.

Not many, probably. More than zero, definitely.


The reality of making uninformed decision regarding basic skills: The results of an Industry Edge study of over 500 applicant tests revealed that the average score for reading a ruler was 56%.

At risk of sounding horribly cynical, this is a company providing industry skills assessments, proclaiming loudly that industry skills assessments are very necessary.

Sad when you have to put a disclaimer on critical thinking. Anytime $ORGANIZATION publishes a "study" proclaiming that $THING is needed, always check to see if $ORGANIZATION sells $THING.

"Reading a ruler" is the equivalent of "fizzbuzz" for machinists-- but with far more expensive consequences.

Hmm I used to work for Siemens as a field service worker and worked on their turbines and generators. Neither me nor any of my coworkers had degrees. The only people with a degree were the project managers who were engineers and even then you'd sometimes get older guy who had been around long enough to know their shit that they didn't need a degree to get promoted into that position. I've also worked for a few other power generation companies and it's pretty much all the same across the board, in fact most of their employees are contract workers who work for outside companies because it's easier to lay them off in the summer when it's slow.

A small grammar question, it says:

"But fewer than 15 percent of the applicants were able to pass a reading, writing and math screening test [...]"

Shouldn't it be less than? Isn't it refering to "less than 15% [...]" instead of "fewer [...] aplicants"? AFAIK for people/countable things is fewer than, but wouldn't this refer directly to the percentage?

Note: English is not my native language but that's not an excuse not to improve.

1. Less/fewer is a distinction rapidly being lost by native English speakers, so don't feel bad if it's confusing. (It's also a relatively recent rule; Shakespeare didn't follow it, for instance.)

2. If I were copy-editing this, I probably would have substituted in "less" for "fewer", but mostly because as a copy-editor you feel like you have to contribute something

3. The senses are ultimately identical ("fewer applicants than 15% of them" vs. "less of a percentage of applicants than 15"), so I'd say ultimately either is OK.

I think that in this case both are possible, since the sentence can be interpreted to refer to either the percentage or the applications, as you point out.

Take it with a grain of salt as I'm not a native speaker either, but non-native speakers are also often more conscious about grammar ;)

I am a native speaker and I agree with 'fewer' but I also agree it's a rather fine point.

Because the commodity being described is discrete and not continuous (applicants), the terms describing them should also be discrete. Obviously, as real numbers, percentages are not inherently discrete. But when a percentage quantifies a discrete unit, the final quantity it describes is still discrete. Thus the unit still determines which word to use (fewer/less), and not the addition of further modifiers like 'percentage'.

Right. of the applicants is a prepositional phrase modifying 15 percent. So fewer/less refers to the percentage.

Google started their apprenticeship program recently and has five positions: https://services.google.com/fb/forms/appszrh/

Good to know Google is a good citizen and participates in this.

Our company, https://oden.io, is currently hiring engineers in NYC to help tackle this problem. We are an IoT company helping to facilitate the 4th industrial revolution. Look out for our post in tomorrow's Who Is Hiring thread!

Can anyone comment on government programs whereby the gov't pays for a portion of a new hire's salary for the first X months to cover training costs?

This at least seems like an interesting way to deal with the problem.

Formal training is great, but you still have to train people on your processes etc.

There's a risk of exploitation by employers - hire workers for unskilled jobs, "train" them for a few months, then make them redundant when the subsidy runs out.

Here in the UK, there used to be a lower minimum wage for trainees. It was common practice for employers to classify bartenders or farm labourers as trainees for protracted periods, even though no real training was being provided.

Remember this great article about a German machinery company opening a factory in the US and not being able to find candidates that knew what a micron was. CNC needs to be precise.

They started hiring veterans of the US forces, because those guys at least got trained on heavy, expensive machinery.

If they really need to be that precise, perhaps they should be using only the standard SI units. They should have asked about micrometers (µm). "Micron (µ)" has been deprecated since 1935, and was revoked entirely in 1967.

US schools typically do not teach the archaic or old-fashioned terms, as they won't be on the standardized tests.

It would be similar to a US company going to Germany and looking for people that knew what a "mil" was. (It's 0.001 inch.)

or a thou :-)

Either it's too complicated for the average human or it can be automated ...

Logically-following question: why do we have such a population that the average and below-average members are too stupid to out-think common automation? Let alone, why do we continue to have such a population?

My old coach used to say that anyone can win a medal at a national event if they just want it bad enough, and I think he's right. You can become top 3 in any area if you just want it bad enough. But the problem is, it guarantees a life in poverty unless you manage to become top 10 in the world, compared to taking an average job with an average salary.

Say someone invested 3 years to get competent enough to work on that plant, then he doesn't get a job. Now what ? It's not like his turbine blade expertise will be useful working as a expedite in a supermarket ...

I'm not sure what it means by "degree"? 9th-grade level math and reading? [referring to the first couple of paragraphs in the article]. That's hardly what is usually meant by a "degree".

Vocational education is undervalued in both America and the UK, it seems.

Most IT jobs in Switzerland are apprentice routes.

And theyre far better than Germans these days.

Had friends with BAs apply for entry level jobs in Switzerland and get rejected with "too little experience".

Another plus is that you can still go to university after a apprenticeship. So you can do something practical before you decide what you will study.

I hope the system will adjust itself to do exactly this. Otherwise were facing a real crises.

Also the swiss do more technical degrees than academic.

This is a distinction that I wish someone had explained to us in high school, and then given us a choice about when applying for university. We just got vague assertions of this university or that being 'more practical' or 'more theoretical' with no real explanation.

The economic value of high school education is not quite zero but it approaches zero. So much tax money spent for nice pensions with zero results.

Prediction: in the distant future people who want to join an organisation will be evaluated by how interested they are in the work.

I think post wise degree is better format.

NY Times is arguably an unreliable source of information. They can't help but inject opinion or cant into every article. They have cheapened their brand, so can I trust their reporting?

If you don't, then don't read the article. A lot of people still read the NYT and think critically for themselves. Please refrain from making general dismissals like this. If you have a specific criticism, please make it.

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