MARIA HINOJOSA: Welcome to Need to Know. Thanks for joining us for this special “Help Wanted” edition. It’s good to be with you. The latest unemployment figures are out and the jobless rate went up last month. The government says some 20 million Americans are still unemployed or under-employed … Meaning they can’t get as much work as they’d like or need. Yet at the same time, firms nationwide say they’re having a difficult time filling millions of openings that they do have.
It’s partly because of what’s known as the “skills gap” — jobs that require more expertise than workers have. So what’s a possible solution? Need to Know’s Rick Karr recently traveled to Mobile, Alabama to report on a state program to train the next generation of shipyard workers. The idea is to create new, higher-paying jobs by attracting businesses to the state.
RICK KARR [narration]: THE SHIPYARDS IN MOBILE … ARE BOOMING. HERE AT BAE SYSTEMS, THE WORKFORCE IS SET TO GROW AS THE YARD DOUBLES IN SIZE. THAT’LL MEAN FIVE HUNDRED NEW JOBS THIS YEAR. NEXT DOOR, DEFENSE CONTRACTOR AUSTAL HAS A MULTIBILLION-DOLLAR CONTRACT TO BUILD NEW SHIPS FOR THE NAVY; IT PLANS TO HIRE MORE THAN A THOUSAND WORKERS OVER THE NEXT EIGHTEEN MONTHS. AND THE BOOM ISN’T CONFINED TO THIS STRETCH OF THE GULF COAST: A YARD IN NEARBY PASCAGOULA, MISSISSIPPI IS LOOKING FOR TWO THOUSAND WORKERS … AND SHIPYARDS IN FLORIDA, LOUISIANA AND TEXAS ARE HIRING, TOO.
RICK KARR: Trouble is the shipyard owners say they can’t find enough skilled workers around here who know how to do the things they need, to weld properly, to fit pipes. And so the state of Alabama spent twelve million dollars to build this state of the art Maritime Training Center. The idea is that if the shipyards can’t find enough workers to manufacture the ships, the state of Alabama is going to manufacture the workers.
RICK KARR [narration]: THE CENTER’S PART OF A STATE AGENCY CALLED AIDT — ALABAMA INDUSTRIAL DEVELOPMENT AND TRAINING. IT GIVES WOULD-BE SHIPYARD EMPLOYEES HANDS-ON EXPERIENCE WITH WELDING … PIPEFITTING … AND OTHER CRAFTS RELATED TO THE INDUSTRY. STUDENTS GET CLASSROOM INSTRUCTION, TOO. TWENTY-THREE-YEAR-OLD DJ MARSHALL ALREADY HAD SOME EXPERIENCE AS A WELDER, BUT HE SIGNED UP FOR A CLASS TO TRY TO LEARN NEW SKILLS — AND MAKE HIMSELF MORE ATTRACTIVE TO THE SHIPYARDS.
DJ MARSHALL: I don’t want to waste their time. I don’t want to waste my time. I know this class could get me back to where I need so I could feel comfortable. The more I know the better opportunity I am able to get a job and of course the more I know the more money I make. And that’s what it really comes down to. The more you know the more you make, the better for the company, the better for you.
RICK KARR [narration]: AFTER TWELVE WEEKS, TRAINEES ARE READY FOR ENTRY-LEVEL JOBS AT ONE OF THE SHIPYARDS. NINETEEN-YEAR-OLD JORDAN SELLERS TOOK A COURSE AND LANDED A POSITION AS A WELDER AT THE BAE SYSTEMS YARD. HE’S EARNING A LITTLE OVER FOURTEEN DOLLARS AN HOUR – WHICH IS ABOUT TWICE WHAT HE WAS BEFORE HE TOOK THE COURSE. THAT HELPS HIM SUPPORT HIS PARENTS AND A YOUNGER BROTHER. AND, HE SAYS, HE LOVES HIS JOB.
JORDAN SELLERS: I wake up in the mornings, and I’m excited to go say, “I’m gonna go learn something today. I’m gonna go be a welder, I’m a third class welder,” and that’s somethin’ I’m very proud to say.
RICK KARR [narration]: SELLERS SAYS … HE COULD HAVE LEARNED HOW TO WELD BY MOVING AWAY FROM MOBILE AND ATTENDING A PRIVATELY-OWNED, FOR-PROFIT TRADE SCHOOL. BUT THAT WOULD’VE BEEN EXPENSIVE.
JORDAN SELLERS: I’d have to find an apartment to rent, I’d have to travel, pay for gas to go back and forth to school on. Have to pay for groceries to– for food, to live off on. Bills, like a water bill, light bill, and all these other factors. And you come out, you may in debt to– to the facility. And that’s what I would’ve been in.
RICK KARR [narration]: THE STATE-RUN PROGRAM, ON THE OTHER HAND, DIDN’T COST HIM A PENNY. IT GIVES THE AREA’S SHIPYARDS SOMETHING FOR FREE, TOO.
GIA HAWKINS: They’re basically– a conduit where they can take people who really want an opportunity to do somethin’ different and do something special, and they can gather them and say, “Hey, this is the person that I have. I think that they’d do really well with your company.”
RICK KARR [narration]: GIA HAWKINS RUNS THE HUMAN RESOURCES DEPARTMENT AT THE BAE SYSTEMS SHIPYARD WHERE JORDAN SELLARS WORKS. SHE SAYS THE STATE’S PROGRAM IS A PARTNER WITH HER DEPARTMENT.
GIA HAWKINS: They are because we can absolutely contact them and say, “You know, we’re gonna need some trainees, you know, in multiple crafts or maybe all one craft.” And, “Okay, well, when do we need to get the next class scheduled?” And we have an opportunity to put one of our employees as the instructor of the class.
RICK KARR [narration]: ALABAMA WILL SPEND ABOUT EIGHT MILLION DOLLARS THIS YEAR ON THE MARITIME TRAINING PROGRAMS. THE STATE’S SECRETARY OF COMMERCE, GREG CANFIELD, SAYS IT’S MONEY WELL SPENT.
GREG CANFIELD: Alabama’s unemployment is 7.5%. Lower than the national average. Lower than many of our– states that we compete with for growth. The average wage level of Alabamians on the rise. We think that the model that we have in Alabama has proven the success of partnering with industry.
RICK KARR [narration]: CANFIELD SAYS THE PROGRAM’S COST-EFFECTIVE, TOO: ABOUT FOURTEEN HUNDRED DOLLARS TO TRAIN EACH WOULD-BE SHIPYARD WORKER.
GREG CANFIELD: And if you put it in these terms, would you rather spend $1,400 to give a person an opportunity to have a career and a livelihood where they can become self-sufficient or would you rather spend 100 times that amount for– subsidies– for everything from– food assistance to– unemployment. You know, the cost for those types of programs are staggering. So by comparison this is cheap.
RICK KARR: And that $1,400 presumably– leaves this person with the skill set that means that they’re earning income–
GREG CANFIELD: That’s right.
RICK KARR: –paying taxes. They’re actually contributing to–
GREG CANFIELD: That’s right.
RICK KARR: –society.
GREG CANFIELD: At the end of the day it’s– it’s a long-term investment– into the economic engine of the state.
RICK KARR [narration]: THE SHIPYARDS AREN’T THE ONLY EMPLOYERS IN ALABAMA WHO PARTNER WITH THE STATE’S TRAINING PROGRAM. THERE’S ALSO A CENTER AT A HYUNDAI PLANT IN MONTGOMERY … AND FACILITIES THAT SERVE FACTORIES OWNED BY HONDA … MERCEDES-BENZ … AND GERMAN STEELMAKER THYSSEN-KRUPP. ALABAMA PLANS TO OPEN A SIMILAR CENTER WHEN EUROPEAN AVIATION GIANT AIRBUS OPENS A NEW PLANT NEAR MOBILE IN TWO YEARS. THE TRAINING PROGRAMS ARE RUN BY THE ALABAMA DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE, WHICH SEES THEM AS PART OF THE INCENTIVE PACKAGE THE STATE OFFERS TO POTENTIAL EMPLOYERS. CANFIELD SAYS … HIS DEPARTMENT TAILORS TRAINING PROGRAMS TO MEET EMPLOYERS’ NEEDS — FROM BASIC MATH … TO ADVANCED WELDING — WHATEVER THE BIG FIRMS ASK FOR.
GREG CANFIELD: They make it quite clear that– usually top among their concerns are the availability of skilled labor. The students– in high schools today and for the last 20 years have been told that they need to go to college to be successful and they haven’t always been given the opportunity to be exposed to the craft professions that involve some very definable skills that also create very lucrative and– and high paying career opportunities.
RICK KARR: It sounds like it’s a winner for everybody but there have been criticisms of the Maritime Training Center. And they focus on the fact that more than half of the facility is dedicated to meeting the needs of just one shipyard, Austal.
RICK KARR [narration]: IN OTHER WORDS, STUDENTS CAN SIGN UP FOR THAT TWELVE-WEEK PROGRAM THAT TEACHES GENERAL SKILLS AND PREPARES THEM FOR JOBS AT ANY OF A NUMBER OF AREA SHIPYARDS … OR THEY CAN SIGN ONTO A COURSE THAT’S JUST SIX WEEKS LONG … AND ONLY PREPARES THEM FOR JOBS WITH THE AUSTRALIAN-OWNED DEFENSE CONTRACTOR.
KEITH MADDOX: We have questions about– accountability. There’s a lot of holes and gaps in information of tracking what’s happening.
RICK KARR [narration]: KEITH MADDOX IS AN AFL-CIO OFFICIAL WHO’S LOOKING INTO ALABAMA’S JOB TRAINING RELATIONSHIP WITH AUSTAL. HE SAYS … UNIONS SUPPORT THE PROGRAM’S GOALS, BUT THEY SEE A FEW PROBLEMS. THEY SAY THIS PROGRAM ACTUALLY COSTS A LOT MORE THAN FOURTEEN HUNDRED DOLLARS PER NEW EMPLOYEE … BECAUSE TWO-THIRDS OF THE STUDENTS WHO ENROLL DON’T END UP WITH JOBS — AND NOBODY KNOWS WHY.
RICK KARR: The folks who are dropping out of the training program– do we have any inkling what’s happening to them?
KEITH MADDOX: For the most part we think therein lies part of the accountability issues. There’s not enough digging in on why the failure rate, what caused it, what can we do to fix it.
RICK KARR: The Austal part it looks like there’s a fairly high dropout rate there. About 3,000 of them go into training. And of those only about 1,000 get hired. Why is that? Do we know why about 2/3 of the people who go into that program aren’t getting jobs at the end of it?
GREG CANFIELD: That’s by design. I mean what we’re trying to do in the state of Alabama, the reason AIDT is so successful and the reason that companies are comfortable coming to Alabama and taking advantage of our ability to recruit and provide pre-employment training is because we have a rigorous process. Unfortunately, they’re– you’re always gonna have some that go through the program who shake out for one reason or another. You know, sometimes people shake out because they don’t attend. They– they– they don’t have the soft skills necessary to understand how important it is just to show up on time.
RICK KARR [narration]: UNIONS ALSO ALLEGE THAT THE SIX-WEEK-LONG AUSTAL PROGRAM IS TOO SHORT TO TEACH ANY MEANINGFUL WORKPLACE SKILLS. THE DEFENSE CONTRACTOR FOLLOWS UP WITH ADDITIONAL ON-THE-JOB TRAINING — BUT IT’S PAID FOR WITH CHECKS THE STATE OF ALABAMA WRITES TO THE SHIPBUILDER SEVERAL TIMES A YEAR. UNIONS SAY … THAT MEANS TAXPAYERS ARE PROVIDING MILLIONS OF DOLLARS IN SUBSIDIES.
RICK KARR: Some people, might look at that and say, “That looks an awful lot like corporate welfare to me. That looks an awful lot like several million dollars to pay Austal to do something that Austal would have to do anyway.
GREG CANFIELD: Corporate welfare is– a phrase that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. We don’t view this as corporate welfare because we’re investing in economic growth in the state of Alabama, but we’re also creating the opportunity for Alabamians to have– a meaningful career and the ability to be– become economically and financially self-sufficient, not only for themselves but for their families.
KEITH MADDOX: At a time that you’re watchin’ teachers bein’ laid off, you’re watchin’ schools close, teachers are under the gun day in and day out and so are the principals for test scores, there’s every kind of accountability tryin’ to be imposed on them. You know, and you’re questioning every dime they spend. If you’re gonna question them, po– impose the same thing on these companies that you’re writing checks to.
RICK KARR [narration]: AN AUSTAL SPOKESPERSON TOLD US THAT THE SHIPBUILDER IS “TREMENDOOUSLY SATISFIED” WITH THE TRAINING PROGRAM … AND AGREES IT SHOULD BE RUN WITH TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY. BUT THE SPOKESPERSON SAID … THAT’S UP TO THE STATE OF ALABAMA. AS A RESULT OF OUR REPORTING, AUSTAL SAYS IT’LL LOOK INTO THE DROPOUT RATE. THE STATE WILL LAUNCH A STUDY, TOO. MEANWHILE, THE PROGRAM’S STUDENTS … AND THEIR WOULD-BE COLLEAGUES IN THE AREA’S SHIPYARDS … SAY IT’S WORTH THE MILLIONS OF DOLLARS IT COSTS.
RICK KARR: As an Alabama taxpayer it sounds like you would say your tax dollars are being wells spent then. It’s a pretty expensive program.
GIA HAWKINS: Yeah, yeah, but I mean, it’s worth it. I mean, when you see the faces and the stories– and anybody at AIDT can tell you everybody that comes in the door that wants to go into those programs– durin’ their interview each of ‘em have a story about, you know, how having a certain skill is gonna change their life or bein’ able to get a job that has the longevity and– and they’ll be able to have a career in a particular shipyard, how that’s gonna change their life. And so when you really look at those stories and the motivation behind a lot of the people that are goin’ through those programs you know that it’s– it’s completely worth it.
MARIA HINOJOSA: Joining me now is Peter Cappelli. He is a professor at the Wharton business school. His most recent book is “Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs”.
INTERVIEW WITH PETER CAPPELLI
MARIA HINOJOSA [narration]: THIS WEEK ONLINE…TAKE PART IN OUR WEEKLY POLL. THE TOPIC: THE AMERICAN WORKER. ALSO, ARE WE LIVING IN A NEW ECONOMIC REALITY? TELL US HOW THE ECONOMY HAS AFFECTED YOUR JOB SITUATION. VISIT PBS.ORG/NEED TO KNOW.
MARIA HINOJOSA: Finally, American Voices. Our focus this week: preventing discrimination against the long-term unemployed. Some 5 million Americans. Here is George Wentworth of the National Employment Law Project.
GEORGE WENTWORTH: I graduated from college in the– 1970s during a recession not unlike the one we’ve been experiencing for the past few years. My first job out of college was working in my hometown unemployment office. And– you know, in– in some respects, it was difficult because I knew a lot of the people– that I was– paying unemployment checks to. And– one of them, I remember, was my godfather, Frank, who had gotten laid off. I remember him coming in. And he was just embarrassed to see me. And– over time, you know, he– he said, “I’ll be back to work.” But he– he ended up bein’ outta work for a long, long time. And– and– it was just so painful to see– you know, the kinda– the depression set in.
It was an experience that left an impression on me– throughout my career. Workers who are long-term unemployed have– a leg down because– employers are– in many instances not interested in– considering them after they’ve been out of work for a certain amount of time. So, we’ve seen the phenomenon of discrimination– against the unemployed. Unemployed need not apply. It really is– kind of a catch 22 when an employer says they’re only gonna consider workers who are currently employed, so you have to have a job to get a job. That’s why one of the initiatives that– that my organization– is very active in is– encouraging the adoption of policies that help low-income workers and unemployed workers.
Just last week, the New York City Council passed an ordinance that would prohibit discrimination against the unemployed in the hiring process. Now, this doesn’t mean that an employer could not take into account the reason that somebody became unemployed. But what it– what it does do is say that you can’t be excluded from the pool of candidates solely because you’re unemployed.
We need to, I think, v– invest more in quality reemployment services– for unemployed workers, particularly long-term unemployed workers. ‘Cause it s– will really be a tragedy for– to lose their workers– and see them leave the labor market altogether. Everyone loses in that scenario.
MARIA HINOJOSA: That’s it for this edition of Need to Know. For more “Help Wanted” coverage of jobs in America, and to participate in our weekly poll, please visit PBS.org/need to know. I’m Maria Hinojosa. Thanks so much for watching. We’ll see you again next week.