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Help the eagles fly! Upgrading the skills of the American work force is the challenge of American management in the 1990s.

Earl in this last decade of the 20th century, the changes and the happenings in the world have been unbelievable; from the tearing down of the Berlin Wall to the break up of the Eastern Bloc communist countries to the political unrest in the Soviet union. Then last August, Saddam invaded Kuwait and started the Persian Gulf conflict. Our economy went into a recession and unemployment climbed to 6.5%. Worldwide competition has gotten tougher and new, stricter environmental laws have increased the cost of doing business. The world is changing so fast. it is frightening to look at world demographics and see the changes coming in our children's lifetime.

Despite all of this, I chose yet another subject to talk about today. It's something we have all heard a lot about, talked a lot about and have been involved with at some level. It's the present and future skills of our work force,

I would like to quote to you something from a paper I recently read:

Me future of the foundry industry lies in the human resources available to us. it is for our own benefit that we should assume a greater interest in the development of these resources. In this age of increasing mechanical and technical complexity, highly developed skills and technical knowledge are at a premium.

There cannot be developed a sufficient supply of skilled workers, trained engineers and scientists of the required stature without greater cooperation between leaders in industry and leaders in our educational system.

"To define all the requirements of the individuals that go to make up an ideal foundry organization or attempt to suggest curriculums is far beyond the scope of this paper. So, let us approach the means of laying the foundations of education from which can be assembled enthusiastic and trained people having a capacity to maintain and improve the relative position of the foundry industry among the more glamorous industries that have a natural attraction for educated youth.

This was the opening statement from the first Charles Edgar Hoyt Memorial Lecture in 1955 given by Fred J. Walls of the International Nickel Co. Today, 36 years later, we still sing the same song and the same verse.

As a youngster growing up in rural Alabama, reading Buck Rogers books and dreaming about tomorrow, the year 2000 seemed light years away. Today, in my remarks, I will use the year 2000 several times in referring to studies, reports and projections. The year 2000 is no longer a long time away. It's almost tomorrow. A Workplace Crisis

For Americans to maintain the high standard of living most of us have enjoyed, we will need to create millions of new jobs, and this will require many qualified employees. While the opportunity will knock at our door, the reality may never be realized. With our present education levels, our high rate of school dropouts, the declining demand for low-skill jobs, a declining population growth and aging work force, we face an enormous crisis.

Today, approximately 26 million Americans cannot read the sentence that I am now reading. Another 40-45 million cannot read, write or calculate well enough to function in society. More than 65 million adults do not have the basic skills to read a map, total their lunch bill or look up the phone number of a hospital in case of an emergency.

It's hard for me to imagine 25-30% of America's adults in 1991 are functionally or marginally illiterate. The U.S. ranks 49th in the world in literacy rate. Forty-eight other countries have a higher percentage of people who can read, write and perform math than America. As the world enters this new era called the "information age," where higher education and better skills are needed to compete, our low literacy rate will not allow us to stay in the race.

Let me give you a few of the facts I came across while preparing for this talk. * A functional illiterate cannot read or

write well enough to meet the basic

needs of everyday life and work. Today,

that equates to a fifth grade level. * 50 % of our industrial workers read at

or below the eighth grade level. * Our national high school drop-out

rate is approximately 25%, and is as

high as 50% in some large inner-city

schools. * 80% of the U.S. prison population are

high school dropouts. * A dropout is twice as likely to be unemployed

as a high school graduate. * Teenagers rarely make a sudden, conscious

decision to leave school early.

The act of dropping out is the culmination

of years of frustration and failure.

Many educators believe potential

dropouts can be identified by the

third grade. * Preschool programs for the disadvantaged,

such as Head Start, reach fewer

than 20% of the eligible children. * Functional illiterates account for 36%

of the chronically unemployed; 30%

of the unskilled; 29% of the

semi-skilled and as much as 11% of those in

professional and managerial jobs * One in eight new high school graduates

are functional illiterates. * Some 50% of the families receiving

public assistance are headed by a

school dropout. * Black and Hispanic households are

twice as likely as whites to be headed

by an adult without a high school

education, and the children in these

households are twice as likely to be

nonreaders themselves. * If a dropout can find employment, he

or she is likely to earn $200,000 less

than a high school graduate in a lifetime. * One in four members of the class of

2000, now entering the fourth grade,

live in poverty. Growing Demands

The list goes on and on. It would be easy to write a paper on each of them. The educational crisis in America is real and could be the largest problem we have ever faced. Consider the following facts. By the year 2000: * The majority of new jobs will require

some post-secondary education. * Over 30% of all jobs will require a

college degree. * The number of jobs will increase by

25% while the work force will grow by

only 15%. * Only 8% of the new jobs will be in

manufacturing. * Only 14% of the all U.S. employees

will be in manufacturing, or 2.2 million

less than today. * The average age of our work force

will increase from 36 years today to 39

in 2000. * Some 85% of new entrants into the

work force will be women, minorities

and immigrants. * Only 15% of the new entrants into the

labor force will be native white males,

compared to 47% of the work force

today. * Nearly 60% of all women over 16 will

be in the work force. * Jobs that are in the middle level of the

skill distribution today, will be in the

lowest level. * Almost 75% of the adults who will be

in the work force are already adults. * In 1985, we had 21.3 million Americans

in the 20-24 age group. This

number will drop to 17.1 million in

1995 and will continue to decrease by

the year 2000.

A few years ago, the United Negro College Fund advertised that A mind is a terrible thing to waste.' From a review of these facts and figures, it's staggering to imagine how many minds" are wasted through the lack of basic skills.

According to the A Nation at Risk' study completed for the U.S. Department of Education, the average graduate of our schools and colleges is not as well educated as the average graduate of 25-35 years ago. A quote analyst Paul Copperman summarizes this dilemma: "Each generation of Americans has outstripped its parents in education, in literacy and in economic attainment. For the first time in the history of our country, the educational skills of one generation will not surpass, will not equal, will not even approach those of their parents." Our educational system is simply not keeping pace with the rapidly changing world in which we live. Jobs in Transition

American companies are competing in a global market against well-educated and highly motivated foreign competitors. We are using the new high technology to upgrade our quality and productivity. While we have replaced many unskilled workers with this new technology, those who remain must have advanced skills in order to utilize the new processes. At the same time, we are restructuring, eliminating middle layers of management and pushing decision-making down to lower levels. Workers will have more responsibility and less supervision. This will require workers to have more thinking, learning and problem-solving skills.

The illiterate in the year 2000 will not only be those who can't read and write, but also those who can't be retrained! The economic impact of illiteracy on companies will be severe. With this combination of a shrinking labor pool and the abundance of jobs, we will find ourselves hiring more workers who cannot read, write or count. Do you got the picture?

We will need more, highly skilled and better-trained employees. What our educational system is giving us is more poorly trained and less skilled candidates.

These are the same problems Fred Walls addressed in 1955. it seems that we didn't learn much from his message. We still have the same problems, but today we have many more-including a falling productivity rate, worldwide competition, tougher rules and regulations in every phase of our business, a soaring national debt, and a huge trade deficit. Some reports say we will become a second-rate nation in terms of wealth and income. Regaining the competitive edge by increasing our productivity rate must be our main thrust in the 1990s. One way to start is with motivated and well-trained employees and managers.

Our industry in the past has been able to use the uneducated or undereducated, but today we are being dragged down by those capable of doing only menial jobs. In one of my foundries, I had three men at the same time who could not read their name or number on their time cards. On one of the cards we put a big "X" On another we put a big "O" and with the third, we tore the corner off in order for them to identify their individual time cards. Their coworkers called them "X", "O" and "EAR." All three were hard-working, loyal employees. One of them had two daughters graduate from college. Today, or tomorrow for sure, those men would have an impossible chance of finding a job that pays a living wage. It was gratifying to know I could help those men earn a living for their families. But, I didn't help them learn to read, write or count. Many of us in the foundry industry have not helped our employees improve their basic skills, and if we do not equip them for the future, we will end up paying the price of neglect.

We have mountains of reports, speeches, studies and warnings. Everyone has established a committee to study and do something about the crisis in education. Lack of education is blamed for most of our economic and social ills including drug abuse, alcoholism, crime, violence, teen pregnancy as well as poor product quality and productivity. Some of the studies and reports I recommend as a must reading for every company official include:

Workforce 2000, Work and Workers for the 2]st Century, by Johnston and Parker, Hudson institute;

The Bottom Line: Basic Skills in the Workplace, a Joint Publication of the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Labor;

Jump Start. The Federal Role in Adult Literacy, by Forrest P. Chisman and sponsored by the Southport Institute for Policy Analysis;

Newsletters of the Business Council for Effective Literacy, New York, N.Y.;

Many of the facts used in this talk came from these reports. Decisions to Make

Eventually we will see major changes in the way we educate our children. We will spend more money on education and have more and longer school days. We will have more and better teachers and much more involvement in education by parents and business people. But, these changes will take 10-20 years to have an impact on our businesses. So, what do we do in the meantime to bridge our immediate educational needs?

We have two options: One, we can continue to ignore the hard facts about illiteracy and its effect on us, and watch others take leadership roles in solving their problem through education and training. Or we can act now to address the problem of employee training.

Robert Schuller in his book "Power to Grow Beyond Yourself," told an old Indian story that goes like this:

An Indian brave went out hunting and found an eagle's egg that had fallen from its nest but miraculously remained unbroken. The Indian took the egg and put it in the nest of a prairie chicken. The eagle's egg hatched along with the other eggs in the prairie chicken's nest, and the little eaglet grew up with the other baby birds.

"All his life, the young eagle thought he was a prairie chicken. He learned to do what prairie chickens do: scratch in the dirt for seeds and insects, cluck and cackle and fly just a few feet off the ground with wings thrashing in the wind. After all, that's how prairie chickens fly. They don't know any other way.

The years passed, and the young eagle became fully grown. One day he looked up and saw a magnificent bird high above in the cloudless sky. The huge bird seemed to hang in the air, borne by the wind currents, soaring with scarcely a beat of its huge, powerful wings.

"What a beautiful bird" he exclaimed. "What is it?" "That's an eagle-the chief of birds," one of the chickens said. "But don't give it a second thought, you can never be like him."

"The eagle might have died after living the life of a chicken, but fortunately he did give it a second thought. On another day, as he scratched in the dirt for seeds and insects, he looked up and again saw that same majestic bird as it soared high above with its huge wings outstretched against the sky.

"Strange," he said to himself. "I, too, have giant wings, and my feet have huge claws that could be used for more than scratching the dirt."

So the eagle got a running start and leaped into the air, working his huge wings rhythmically and steadily as he had seen the huge bird do and like he had never done before. Instead of rising only a few feet as usual, he soared into the sky and found his true potential and destiny."

What made the difference? When the chicken-eagle got a glimpse of excellence, something clicked inside. He had always heard an inner voice whisper,

"You can do more than this," but he had never responded. He had taken the advice of the chicken companions who said, "Why make more dust than necessary as you scratch your way through life? Settle for the status quo; its safer than the wild blue yonder."

We all have many good employees, and they see us as eagles. It is up to us to be "real eagles" and help our people do more than scratch in the dirt. We must teach and lead them to fly and let them soar! These employees are our future. Workplace Learning

The idea of workplace learning is not a new concept, but it has taken on a new meaning in the past couple of years. Many of our larger companies have had successful programs for years, but tomorrow every company, regardless of its size, must have a formal plan for helping their people. According to the American Society for Training and Development, regarding work-related training, "employers deliver learning to more people than does the entire higher education system and spends about $30 billion a year in direct costs for formal training courses that they provide themselves or buy from outside suppliers."

Many foundries have started programs other than apprentice programs to educate, train and retrain their employees. There was an article in the October 1990 issue of modem casting about the training program at Grede Foundries. At Motor Casting Co., I saw an older man learning basic fractions in a classroom atmosphere. Other students were working on their reading and computer skills. Robinson Foundry, working with a Community College, has developed a structured learning center. Another foundry started a program to teach their engineers technical writing. They found early in the program that they had to first teach the engineers the basics of grammar and sentence structure. They have expanded the program during the past two years and now have 80 employees at all levels, ranging from learning to read to GED certificate programs.

Another company will not hire a high school drop out unless they agree to go through the Adult Basic Education classes and earn their GED. If they do not continue in the classes, they are discharged. This plant has also started an Employee's Children Reading Program. They encourage parent involvement in school activities and will pay employees to attend Parent-Teacher meetings during work time.

In a recent article that appeared in the Birmingham News by Ralph Fifield, general manager of USX in Birmingham, Fifield wrote that, when installing new high-tech equipment, there must be an equally strong commitment to upgrading and maintaining technical skills. In the past three years, his company has spent over $10 million on a variety of training programs for their 2300 employees in the Birmingham plant. Virtually all production and maintenance personnel participated in these programs, which included subjects such as blueprint reading, electrical-control circuitry and hydraulics as well as the basic skills through an Adult Basic Education program. This USX plant alone will spend $2 million in 1991 on employee training.

Where do you go to get help in starting a program to help your employees and their families? Many organizations have programs available. Some programs are free. Some you pay for books and materials. Others cover tuition fees, and still others charge for furnishing everything from testing and materials to teachers. AFS, at its Management Conference in Williamsburg, Virginia, in October of this year, will devote much of its program to literacy in the workplace. Make plans to attend this important meeting.

When we started thinking about a program at my company, Birmingham Alloys, I talked to each employee to get some feedback as to their needs and desires. Everyone wanted to improve their skills, ranging from a college graduate wanting to know more about using computers to a man who wanted to learn to read. When I asked the man who couldn't read what he would like to do, he answered: 'I want to be able to get my driver's licence and to read about football.' I promised he would get his licence and he would read about football ! I made a lot of inquiries about how to get started and had several people help us initiate our program. Today we have two employees taking math lessons to earn their GED. Two others are working with Lotus 1-2-3 on the computer. We have three studying reading, all at different levels. The reading tutor gives each employee one-on-one help as well as serving as a group instructor. Each has access to a private office in which to study. The classes are from 3-5:00 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday. We pay for one and one-half hours, and they give 30 minutes of their own time. We also have a high school teacher coming in after this term to refresh three of our ladies in the office in the basics of typing. We will pay for the teacher and all books and materials.

It is gratifying to see and feel the enthusiasm in these adults. They all know that, without knowing these basic skills, their futures are limited, and they have expressed their thanks to us for helping them. Backing Up Technology

Again, I would like to quote from Fred Wall's paper "Future foundrymen will have at their command new technological developments and must have education in the sciences governing these developments."

He closes his paper by saying: "In our planning for the future, let us strive to uncover the talent that is inherent in all people, and if we provide educational facilities for these talents, we need have no fear for our future prosperity. Attitude along with knowledge and its application, paves a road to success without shadows, but with possible discouragements that are readily overcome by ambition.

Check around your community, and ask for help. Start at the local schools, with your city or county school board, Chamber of Commerce, local colleges, churches, Veteran's and retiree groups. There is a lot of help available. You will be pleasantly surprised.

As I close, I challenge everyone in our industry to get involved in education at every level. But, more importantly, get involved in your company with the education of your employees and their families. As managers, executives and leaders, it is our responsibility to HELP THE EAGLES FLY
COPYRIGHT 1991 American Foundry Society, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:95th AFS Casting Congress: 1991 Charles Edgar Hoyt Memorial Lecture
Author:Sims, Hugh M., Jr.
Publication:Modern Casting
Date:Jul 1, 1991
Previous Article:Hands-on experience at Armstrong Mold.
Next Article:Metal saturation and finning problem can be avoided: controlling metal saturation is a function of knowing refractory porosity, permeability.

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