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Michele Masterfano Headshot

Why Are American Workers Being Left Behind?

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In a column in Fortune Magazine last month, Nina Easton talked about Congress' efforts at increasing the number of H1B visas and green cards for immigrants. She also discussed efforts to increase STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) training in U.S. schools. All worthy goals. We should increase the number of immigrants allowed into the country, and we are definitely falling behind in the STEM fields; this needs to be addressed, and addressed quickly.

And I am all for more immigration. Many, if not most, of my students are from other countries, and it is wonderful to work with them, watch as they study the ways of American business, and see them succeed. But at the same time I wonder if we are doing the right thing for American workers and their families.

Education, at both the K-12 level and in our technical schools, doesn't seem to be working anymore. I don't know why, although I certainly see a long list of issues being reported; I also don't have any prescriptions for fixing it. But one thought keeps coming back to me, and the Easton column and others reporting on these issues ignore it: If our companies cannot find skilled employees, why don't they hire for aptitude and provide the specific training for the skills and abilities they need?

As recently as the 1980s many of our largest corporations had their own training facilities. Granted, most of these were dedicated to training managers, not frontline workers. Smaller companies sent their employees to trade associations, independent educational venues, and other sites for additional training. But education and training were important methods for ensuring a fully-trained and capable workforce.

This seems to have fallen by the wayside in the effort to constantly cut costs. What happened to investing in current employees to ensure continued company growth? Today, it appears that companies would rather lay-off employees who don't have up-to-date skills and hire new employees rather than provide the training in the technologies or processes or skills needed. They want to hire the perfect person for each job, one that already has the entire skill set required. This, to me, is very short-term thinking.

I liken it to our national infrastructure issues. We have seen over and over again the statistics on the number of bridges that are deficient; we've also seen multiple bridge collapses. Roads and bridges are in need of repair all over the country, and this is driven by local, state, and federal budgets. But in this age of budget-cutting, we are short-changing the future for the sake of the present. Again, short-term thinking. And given the bridge collapses and roads that have needed to be closed because of structural deficiencies, its short-term thinking that isn't working even in the short-term.

I propose that if a company is struggling to hire workers they should start considering the hire-for-aptitude and train-for-required-skills approach. If they cannot provide the trainers and training facilities themselves, it can certainly be outsourced. Yes, this will increase expenses. But it will also provide employees with the exact needed skills. A bonus will be workers who will probably be fairly loyal, since the company provided them not only with training, but also a job. And in the longer run, it will help improve our struggling economy, as it will put money into the hands of those who perhaps do not have much now, driving increased demand for everything from coffee to cars.

ABC News has a series called Made in America, focusing on and highlighting domestic manufacturing companies. Let's participate in that concept by having our employees also Made in America. We can still welcome those who want to immigrate to this country, and we certainly should. In fact, a strong economy will attract even more who wish to participate in the American dream, further strengthening the standing of the United States throughout the world. That is undoubtedly a goal we all should be striving for.