Right Under Your Nose

While most of us read a newspaper or two every day, I sometimes wonder if elected officials ever do. Some of the glaring problems facing our country are there for them to see too. In one of today’s newspapers — The Examiner — I was struck by how the key themes affecting today’s manufacturers (and most of the rest of the country as well) are right there under our noses. Is anyone going to do anything constructive about these headlines and the stories behind them?

  • school dropouts. Thirty percent of high school students nationwide don’t finish high school! An expert is quoted, saying “the projections for the workforce of the future are looking gloomier and gloomier.” Add to this the fact that about a third of all entering college freshmen never get a college degree either. If this system isn’t broken, I don’t know what is. Millions of young Americans every year are thrown into a more and more competitive global marketplace with virtually no skills to function in it.
  • boosting trade. The President of Columbia is in town to promote a free trade agreement with the United States. Around the world, US exporters face tariffs and barriers while many products coming here face virtually no such restraints. Our trading competitors are signing trade agreements left and right but Congress can’t seem to see that helping US companies sell overseas is good for jobs and the economy.
  • innovation. Who can argue that having a more innovative economy isn’t good for all of us? Yankee ingenuity is our great national advantage from manufacturing to banking to consumer products. So the headline reads that prescription drugs will soon have price controls. Hmmmm…let’s think about how that will spur innovation. Maybe it will just drive R&D offshore and the high-paying research jobs that go with it.
  • health care. A Kaiser Permanente study shows that Americans like the benefits of electronic health records, but don’t know much about it. Harnessing technology in the health care sector, as manufacturers have already done, is one of the great promises for bringing down health care costs without resorting to a federal bureaucracy.
  • energy. A congressional committee has passed new incentives for ethanol production. That’s a good step, but the legislators turned down efforts to use liquefied coal, which is abundant in the United States. And meanwhile, many legislators rail against oil companies that still have the job of providing the largest share of our energy supplies well into the future, regardless of what inconvenient truths you may have heard. Why don’t we forge a policy to help them get that job done?

    Gee, that’s a great platform for the 2008 presidential race, I’d say. Who will help us get through these headlines and make real progress on each of these? It’s a good question to ask any candidates for public office over the next year or more. Click on any of the links above if you want to get the full story.

  • Join the discussion 2 Comments

    • Pearl says:

      I don’t think that “most” of us read the newspaper everyday–unless you’re talking about editors and PR people! You’re absolutely right about the issues though. And many manufacturers are being affected (positively and negatively) by the ongoing conflict in the middle-east, and that type of business will ebb and flow according to policy changes. Globalization is of course also transforming our manufacturing.

      There is a learning curve here. To the teacher who commented, I agree with your definition of shop class as a “place to placate the malcontents.” I was in shop class once (“small engines” class) at my own public school. We had no education on the concepts of industry, only the concepts of fitting the engine and avoiding detention. And most of my class did not graduate from high school. But if they had, and if all of us “shop kids” had gone on to college, and then maybe even grad school, and became engineers and future industry leaders, there is another demographic group that we would join–the over-educated un(der)employed. There also seems to be a lack of jobs for skilled workers in many markets.
      The nature of our system seems to be the need for people of various skill levels, for better or for worse. Too much for me to wrap my head around really because I’m in it, we all are I suppose!

      Thanks for your blog, it’s great.

    • Richard Becker says:

      A major reason 30% of high school students dropout is the only post-secondary option offered in schools is college, based on the assumption that all academically capable students should aspire to college.

      The major reason there are so many college droputs is they are pushed into college and belatedly learn that option is not for them.

      The result is lack of an educated and skilled direct labor workforce.

      That problem is the objective of my education reform efforts as a former high school Industrial education teacher, with knowledge and experience in machining, who tried to make a difference. Instead of the traditional concept of “shop” as a place to placate the malcontents, I tried to teach the concepts of industry as a prevocational exploration and preparation program.