Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Your Mom Goes to College!

Sylvia Smith has an interesting article in today's JG about one of the reasons we're struggling to compete economically, and it's something that's not often talked about.
Not long ago, Rep. Mark Souder, R-3rd, sat next to a Fort Wayne business executive on one of his many plane rides between Washington and Fort Wayne. While they chatted, the executive boasted that the productivity and work ethic of his northeast Indiana employees are top-notch. But then he bemoaned that the plant – which Souder didn’t want to identify – is on shaky ground because he can’t find enough managers.

The local workforce doesn’t have the training to compete as managers in the global marketplace, the man told Souder, and it’s often difficult to convince people from other states – places with mountains, oceans, big-city restaurants and museums – to move to Fort Wayne.

Souder said the part of this that is so alarming to him is not that one plant is grappling with a lack of managerial potential in the Fort Wayne area but that he hears the same refrain from so many businesses.

To Souder, the culprit in the story is not the often-cited bugaboos of globalization: cheap foreign labor, unfair dumping practices or outsourcing. It’s a lack of education.
It's not popular to say, but getting a high school diploma and taking a job at a factory and expecting to retire there was not a realistic expectation, which a lot of people are finding out as this area loses manufacturing jobs to outsourcing. Unfortunately, many people in the area have been left out in the cold as our country undergoes an economic transformation -- difficult, yes, but also necessary to compete in the global market.
Souder said the characteristics of northeast Indiana of 100 years ago – a largely self-contained community that grew its own food and made its own products – has led to the area not being “as prepared for the kind of challenges that come when all of a sudden globalization comes.”

“We’ve never had a premium on a college degree. A college degree did not mean you would make much more money than those without a college degree,” he said. “When I got my master’s from Notre Dame, if you took the typical master’s degree salary estimate, it was going to take 10 years to get up to what even a (person without a high school diploma) was going to make on the assembly line at (International) Harvester,” he said.
What Souder doesn't say is that mindset, coupled with the fact that those persons who do get a college degree are deciding to move elsewhere (brain drain), has left this region with a large pool of potential employees that aren't qualified for the kind of jobs that the city is trying to attract.

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