Stay in school for jobs of the future
August 31, 2012 10:00PM
Workers build and test hydraulic valves at the Caterpillar plant in Joliet. A Lewis University professor says good-paying manufacturing jobs in the United States will continue to decline. | Sun-Times Media file photo
Updated: January 15, 2013 1:44PM
If you’re waiting for thousands of manufacturing jobs to migrate back to the United States, don’t hold your breath, warned Lewis University economics professor Lawrence Hill.
Because of advances in technology and robotics, for every six jobs that went overseas only one will return as wages rise in countries that once had cheap labor, he said. Hill, who is chairman of the Romeoville school’s economics department, made his prediction as he talked about the changes in the U.S. labor force over the past 20 years.
Hill said you can see what happens when the standard of living begins to rise overseas by studying Japan. Japanese auto companies flooded the U.S. market with cheaper vehicles in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s because wages there were so low. But when wages began to rise back home, those companies started assembling their vehicles in the United States.
But so much of the auto industry now is automated, “We may have lost six jobs to Japan, but we’re not going to have six jobs come back,” Hill said. “That’s why manufacturing is still lagging in the U.S.”
Technological advances also are hurting unions in this country, Hill said. A lot of the jobs unions are trying to protect are not highly skilled and, “Anybody can learn them if they got a little bit of training,” he said.
That makes it easier for temporary workers to cross picket lines and do the same job, which is what happened in the recent strike by machinists at Caterpillar Inc.’s Joliet plant. The strike lasted almost four months, but ended on a whimper as workers voted to accept concessions and return to work.
The days of American workers being able to walk in off the street and make big bucks with little training are on the wane, Hill said.
Hill said staying in school and getting as highly skilled as possible is the ticket to the jobs of the future. Americans with master’s or professional degrees have an unemployment rate of 3.6 percent and 2.4 percent, respectively, much lower than the national rate of 8.3 percent.
The unemployment rate for people who don’t have a high school diploma is 14.1 percent.
Information technology, agriculture, health care and energy should provide a lot of jobs in the decades to come, he added.
Overall, Hill said he was optimistic that the United States will bounce back and excel in its areas of expertise.
“We’re resilient people,” he said. “We haven’t lost that.”
Labor Day resolutions
Speaking of jobs, the global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. has some “Labor Day resolutions” if you want to avoid a layoff in the final months of your company’s budget year.
The firm recommends you: Seek more responsibility; meet your boss’s boss, someone who could help advance your career; join a company committee to build new relationships; find and/or become a mentor to get new perspectives and career goals; align your goals with the company’s goals; discover ways to save your company money; and become an expert on one facet of your field.”