Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Where the Jobs Are
Where the Jobs Are
By Rachel Marsden
Walking around the world's largest air show, I've discovered that there is no economic crisis if one is willing to look hard enough to escape it. The Paris Air Show should be dubbed "The World Capitalism Festival," because what I witnessed here was unfettered capitalism and free-market competition at its finest. I was so deeply moved that I nearly burst into tears in front of an Aster 30 missile, in all its phallic splendor.
Here, there's no need for any politician to waterboard companies with the green Kool-Aid. The hottest item at this year's show is Airbus' A320 NEO, a "green" plane that netted a record 730 orders for a total of $72.2 billion. If America's Boeing hopes to compete and move beyond its $22 billion in orders, it'll have to catch up and produce something similar. The NEO's big attraction is that it's 15 percent more fuel-efficient than a classic A320. With fuel costs representing one-third of airline expenses, no government official has to legislate this plane into existence.
From free-market success also comes employment explosion. Among the 2,100 exhibitors, nearly all those with whom I spoke said they were hiring. Specifically, they're in desperate need of workers with technical skills -- engineers, builders, producers -- and they couldn't find enough people to fill these positions. Several were recruiting on-site.
These are highly skilled jobs you can't fake. The negative consequences of faking one's abilities in manufacturing a plane or defense system should be obvious. It's therefore highly unlikely that jobs in this field will be snapped up by some hombre fresh off of jumping the southern border. They're mostly globalization-proof.
So where are all our workers in this field? This is the West's top-tier manufacturing base, in which democracies are outperforming oppressive regimes such as China and Russia. Malaysia's AirAsia, for example, bought $18.2 billion worth of Airbuses, not a Chinese or Russian brand. This is the playing field on which we are beating our ideological enemy.
The fact that companies can't fill these jobs suggests a serious systemic problem in Western society: economic deindustrialization. According to the American Prospect, manufacturing represented only 11.5 percent of America's economic output in 2008, compared with 28 percent in 1959.
Meanwhile, our young people have never been better educated. I'd suggest that's actually a big part of the problem. Rather than going to college to learn engineering, math and applicable scientific skills, many Western students are encouraged by their parents to strive for law school, business school or some Ivy League flake-o liberal arts degree. The result is that when kids aren't being educated way beyond their intelligence, then they're being educated on the most useless topics imaginable. While schools are raking in money by convincing students to collect one useless degree after another, students are being spit out into the workforce dead broke and unskilled.
One might also blame this phenomenon on the feminization of society in general. Why aren't most men going into engineering and manufacturing anymore or being encouraged to do so? As a woman who graduated from a university with a degree in hard sciences, I briefly considered a career in engineering -- until I realized that I could never spend all day, every day, crunching numbers. But I'm a woman, not to mention a heterosexual one. I don't do oil changes or follow baseball statistics. And, statistically speaking, as a woman, my left inferior parietal lobe -- the brain's math center, where Albert Einstein was abnormally well-endowed -- is markedly smaller than a man's. Unless I'm some kind of mutant, I can't escape that biological reality.
Still, I grew up playing with dump trucks rather than dolls. If a Barbie doll ever crossed my path, it ended up as cargo in the back of my dump truck, along with any of her accessories. I can only conclude that my biological brain structure ultimately overrode my environment and upbringing, despite my parents' best efforts. I excelled at math, physics and calculus but didn't enjoy it enough to make a career out of it. Granted, I still love studying airplanes and military weaponry, but only in their greater strategic context. I'd lose my mind if I had to immerse myself in the intricacies of building them. I worked hard at it, but it didn't come naturally -- much like I excelled at gymnastics as a kid but was constantly struggling not to injure some part of my much-too-tall frame. Not that there aren't women with a genuine affinity for engineering careers -- and perhaps that difference is ultimately biological/structural.
So I can logically, albeit somewhat politically incorrectly, answer the question of why I'm not cut out for the manufacturing industry. But the fact that men who are fully equipped for it aren't gravitating to this wide-open job market is baffling and problematic. They can't all have tiny left inferior parietal lobes!
Because so many parents are encouraging their sons to enter management positions -- and laughably expecting them to land in the executive suite of a major corporation right after getting their MBA -- perhaps it would be a good strategy for high-tech manufacturing companies to attract skilled workers by offering them a meritocratic career path to management up front.
If America and the West have any hope for rebuilding our manufacturing base and crushing China someday while not letting go of our values, these are the kinds of questions we need to address.
Posted by Brett at 4:11 PM