Can Solving the Skills Gap Rebuild the Middle Class?

Eric Spiegel grew up in Steel Town. His hometown – Youngstown, Ohio – used to be the second-largest steel producer in the world. Steel mill jobs were tough work, he recalls. But for his grandfathers and many of his friends’ parents, the upside was that the jobs paid well and opened doors into the middle class.

Today, as the President and CEO of Siemens USA, a company with more than 80 U.S. manufacturing sites, Spiegel’s Youngstown roots continually remind him of how a strong U.S. manufacturing presence can positively impact people and communities.

In a posting on the ManufacturingStories website, David Dewitt talks about a keynote address Spiegel recently delivered.

Dewitt says Spiegel’s thinking was shaped by experiences in New Hampshire. Spiegel did his graduate work at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business. In college, though, he ventured to Seabrook to witness nuclear power protests while researching his senior thesis. His paper would argue that nuclear power, in economic terms, looked like a “no-brainer,” but that its success would hinge a lot on public opinion. The Three Mile Island incident, which had occurred weeks earlier, made this crystal clear.

Spiegel spoke of the value of investing in apprenticeships and workforce training at a summit that brought together Governor Hassan and leaders representing government, education, business and nonprofits. All of these leaders came together at a summit to push forward a goal to give every young adult in the state, ages 16 to 29, access to work-based learning by 2020.

Today we have 70 percent of high school graduates going straight to college. But then only 50 percent of this group graduates – and they do so with close to $30,000 in student debt. Then only 50 percent of these graduates have been able to find work in careers that even require a bachelor’s degree.

Meanwhile, the jobs in STEM middle-skills professions require training and different (typically less expensive) credentials. This is where the conversation typically turns to: well, we need to erase the middle skill stigma. We need to get parents, students, and employers to think differently. And that’s true. But a lot of parents and students aren’t even aware that other educational and career pathways exist.

It’s an unfortunate perception that the goal of these training programs is to engage young people who are maybe not doing as well in school. That is not true. It’s really about engaging young people and connecting them with the right skills – especially those who are ambitious and have the raw smarts, Spiegel says.

Click here to read Dewitt’s whole article on the ManufacturingStories website.

Dream It Do It Oklahoma is an initiative that showcases the incredible career opportunities available in manufacturing. It works to change perceptions of manufacturing careers by connecting manufacturers with students, parents and educators to create an understanding of the manufacturing renaissance in the United States and salary opportunities over $60,000 for Oklahoma employees.