JEFF GREENFIELD: Welcome to Need to Know. Thanks for joining us. The government has released its latest jobs report and unemployment fell last month. Here’s how many new jobs it says were created in April. The labor department also revised upward its estimate of the number of new jobs created the previous month. But these numbers really don’t speak to the dilemma that’s been haunting the American economy for years …long-term unemployment.
Roughly 4 and a half million Americans have been without work for more than six months. And recent research points to a vicious cycle here: not having a job makes it harder to get one, in part because employers are wary about hiring someone who’s been out of work that long. So…how can we get them back to work? One answer is better training.
Rick Karr recently visited Seattle to look at a program that’s designed to give the unemployed the skills they need to find jobs in one of the country’s fastest-growing industries.
RICK KARR [narration]: THE LAST FEW YEARS HAVE BEEN TOUGH FOR NADIYA OLUSOLA: HER HUSBAND PASSED AWAY, SO SHE MOVED FROM HER NATIVE DETROIT TO SEATTLE TO START FRESH … AND FIND WORK. SHE HAD EXPERIENCE RUNNING AN INNER-CITY ANTI-VIOLENCE NONPROFIT THAT SHE AND HER LATE HUSBAND HAD FOUNDED. SHE HAD TWO YEARS OF COLLEGE CREDIT … AND EXPERIENCE AS A HEALTH-CARE AIDE. SHE HEADED OUT EARLY IN THE MORNING TO WAIT IN LINES TO APPLY FOR ONE OPPORTUNITY AFTER ANOTHER. BUT SHE ALWAYS CAME AWAY DISAPPOINTED … AND IT STARTED TO DAWN ON HER THAT FINDING A JOB WAS GOING TO BE A LOT HARDER THAN SHE’D IMAGINED.
NADIYA OLUSOLA : I was– I began to feel– almost felt devastated. And I would just sit there. You know, it’s 5:30 in the morning. And I would just pray for a job, you know, pray for an opportunity to get out, just to have some resources for that day.
RICK KARR [narration]: SHE ENDED UP HOMELESS AND FINALLY LANDED ON A FRIEND’S SOFA, GETTING FROM PLACE TO PLACE ON CUT-RATE BUS TICKETS FOR THE POOR AND LIVING OFF OF FOOD ASSISTANCE. AND SHE STILL COULDN’T FIND A JOB.
NADIYA OLUSOLA: And I just found out that I didn’t have the skills, you know. I needed– some type of certification. I said it’s time for me to empower myself. You know, it’s time for me to go back to school.
RICK KARR [narration]: SO OLUSOLA HEADED BACK TO SCHOOL — WHICH IS EXACTLY WHAT THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION’S BEEN ENCOURAGING UNEMPLOYED WORKERS LIKE HER TO DO FOR THE PAST FOUR YEARS.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: We also have to ensure that we’re educating and preparing our people for the new jobs of the 21st century. We’ve got to prepare our people with the skills they need to compete in this global economy.
RICK KARR [narration]: THE MORE EDUCATION AMERICANS HAVE, THE LESS LIKELY THEY ARE TO BECOME JOBLESS … AND THE MORE MONEY THEY’RE LIKELY TO EARN. IN OTHER WORDS, IN TODAY’S WORKPLACE, ONLY THE SMART SURVIVE. AND THRIVE.
BRIAN BOSWORTH: We don’t have people digging ditches with shovels anymore. We have people operating equipment. And that requires a certain amount of skill. Increasingly higher levels of skill. So we have mid-skill jobs and higher skill jobs but we really don’t have unskilled jobs in this economy any longer.
RICK KARR [narration]: BRIAN BOSWORTH HAS BEEN STUDYING THE JOB MARKET FOR DECADES … AS A CONSULTANT … AND AS A STATE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT OFFICIAL. HE SAYS … THERE’S A NAME FOR THE SKILLS THAT AMERICANS LIKE NADIYA OLUSOLA NEED IN ORDER TO GET GOOD JOBS. IT’S “STEM” — FOR SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, ENGINEERING, AND MATH — AN EDUCATION BUZZWORD FROM THE COUNTRY’S ELEMENTARY CLASSROOMS … TO ITS MAJOR UNIVERSITIES.
RICK KARR: When you think about the kinds of educations that Americans are going to need to get jobs in the 21st century you probably think about advanced degrees like you can get here on the campus of the University of Washington: Bachelor’s in engineering, a Master’s in computer science. But maybe not everybody needs a degree like that. Maybe, for some people, practical training is more important.
BRIAN BOSWORTH: We all live and work in a complex era. We’re using sophisticated equipment in new ways that weren’t– weren’t feasible or necessary just five, 10 years ago. So I think the issue of STEM education is not simply preparing people for narrowly defined pure STEM jobs like engineers and computer scientists, but providing a platform of STEM knowledge and awareness that are needed in virtually every job.
REEL: In the factories…
RICK KARR [narration]: BACK IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, MANUFACTURING WORKERS DIDN’T NEED MUCH MORE THAN HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMAS.
REEL: Giving local employment in every great area of the nation.
RICK KARR [narration]: BUT NOT TODAY.
BRIAN BOSWORTH: It’s going to take a dose of additional technical and general education after high school for an individual to be ready for that first good job. The job that’s gonna lead them into a career.
RICK KARR: But we used to do that. We used to have vocational education.
BRIAN BOSWORTH: We had a different kind of economy in those days. The employment marketplace is different. People have to know more and be able to do more than was the case 20 years ago. Perhaps even 10 years ago.
RICK KARR [narration]: TAKE THE EXAMPLE OF ONE OF THE FASTEST-GROWING INDUSTRIES IN WASHINGTON STATE: JANICKI INDUSTRIES SPECIALIZES IN COMPOSITES — MIXTURES OF PLASTIC … AND HIGH-TECH CARBON FIBERS. THE MATERIAL’S USED TO BUILD AIRPLANE FUSELAGES … HELICOPTER ROTORS … AND WIND TURBINES. IT’S ALSO SHOWING UP IN CARS … AND SPORTING GOODS.
AD: Super light and super strong carbon fibers set new standards in range and safety.
RICK KARR [narration]: COMPOSITES ARE AS STRONG AS STEEL … BUT WEIGH ONLY ABOUT A QUARTER AS MUCH — WHICH MEANS THEY CAN MAKE VEHICLES MUCH LIGHTER AND MORE FUEL EFFICIENT. IN THE AGE OF THREE-FIFTY-A-GALLON GAS, THE COMPOSITES BUSINESS IS BOOMING. JOHN JANICKI SAYS THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY FACTORY EMPHASIZES PRECISION … AND RELIES ON LASERS, COMPUTERS, AND HIGH-TECH TOOLS. SO IT DEMANDS MORE OF THOSE SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, ENGINEERING AND MATH SKILLS.
JOHN JANICKI: So you really have to understand geometry, and you need to be able to read drawings, you have to have basic understanding of chemistry. And if you don’t understand ‘em at all, you– you know, you’re gonna use something or mix something that’s just wrong, and you can cause a fire and those type of things.
RICK KARR: How hard is it to find workers who have that skill set? I mean, is there a shortage of workers like that?
JOHN JANICKI: There’s a shortage of the perfect worker. There’s always a shortage of the perfect worker. The first thing you start out is with attitude. You know, do they have a work ethic attitude? And then the desire to learn. To want to do better, and learn this– this job and this role,
RICK KARR [narration]: JANICKI INDUSTRIES ALWAYS HAS JOB OPENINGS — AS MANY AS FIFTEEN AT A TIME. THERE ARE DOZENS OF COMPOSITES FIRMS IN THE STATE OF WASHINGTON — ALL OF THEM COMPETING IN A BUSINESS THAT GREW BY TEN PERCENT LAST YEAR — IN PART BECAUSE OF THE DEMAND FROM ONE GIANT SEATTLE FIRM: BOEING.
WENDY PRICE: We actually had– partners from Boeing, the Boeing company, come to our college and say, “We want you to create a composite technician program.”
RICK KARR [narration]: WENDY PRICE IS DEAN OF WORKFORCE EDUCATION AT SOUTH SEATTLE COMMUNITY COLLEGE. EARLY LAST YEAR, THE SCHOOL LAUNCHED THE PROGRAM THAT BOEING ASKED FOR. NADIYA OLUSOLA SIGNED UP RIGHT AFTER SHE ATTENDED AN OPEN HOUSE ON CAMPUS.
RICK KARR: Did– did you know anything about Composites at all before that night?
NADIYA OLUSOLA: Absolutely not. I had never even heard of the word “composites,” you know. But, you know, since being here, I see the opportunity. There’s over 200 companies in the State of Washington that work with composites.
RICK KARR [narration]: THE COURSE TEACHES OLUSOLA AND OTHER STUDENTS THE BASICS OF WORKING WITH COMPOSITES IN AN INDUSTRIAL LAB….
GEOMETRY INSTRUCTOR: B down here in the corner has a special name. Anybody remember what it’s called?
RICK KARR [narration]:… AND IN THE CLASSROOM. THEY GO THROUGH MOCK JOB INTERVIEWS … AND LEARN THE BASICS OF GOOD CONDUCT ON THE FACTORY FLOOR — STUDENTS HAVE TO PUNCH IN AND OUT EVERY DAY, JUST LIKE EMPLOYEES OF REAL COMPOSITES COMPANIES. THE STUDENTS’ AVERAGE AGE IS THIRTY-NINE, AND MOST HAVE EITHER LOST JOBS … OR RECENTLY RETURNED FROM MILITARY SERVICE.
RICK KARR: So these are the folks who’ve really, sort of, suffered the worst in the recession over the past few years?
WENDY PRICE: Right. They need to– they need to reskill to compete in today’s market.
RICK KARR [narration]: THE GOAL OF THE PROGRAM, PRICE SAYS, IS TO GET STUDENTS TO FILL THE COMPOSITES INDUSTRY’S DEMAND FOR WORKERS AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE — TO MOLD THEM INTO THE “IDEAL WORKERS” THAT MANAGERS LIKE JOHN JANICKI ARE LOOKING FOR. AND PRICE SAYS … THE FACT THAT MANY OF THE STUDENTS ARE OLDER IS A FEATURE, NOT A BUG.
WENDY PRICE: People that are 39 are very focused on why they’re there, and they’re determined to– get out to work. They need to. They understand they need to feed their family. They understand they need they need to build their career. They have the maturity– to know why their spending their time and sacrificing other things in their life to– to spend time in school.
RICK KARR [narration]: ALMOST ALL OF THE STUDENTS’S TUITION IS COVERED BY THE STATE AND FEDERAL GOVERNMENTS. NEARLY THREE-QUARTERS OF GRADUATES END UP WITH JOBS IN THE COMPOSITES INDUSTRY. ONE OF THE MOST ATTRACTIVE ASPECTS OF THE PROGRAM FOR UNEMPLOYED STUDENTS LIKE NADIYA OLUSOLA … IS THAT FROM START TO FINISH, IT PACKS THE EQUIVALENT OF A ONE-YEAR ACCREDITED PROGRAM … INTO JUST SIX MONTHS.
RICK KARR: You could’ve gone for another two years and had yourself a bachelors degree if you wanted. So why’d you decide to do this program and not– not another two years to get a bachelors degree?
NADIYA OLUSOLA: Well, mainly because of my personal situation. I have no monthly income right now. I’m outta bus tickets. I’ve been callin’ various organizations to see about, you know, how do I get back and forth to school now? I ran out of all my resources. But I’m determined. Because this is somethin’ that’s going to pull me out of this situation.
RICK KARR [narration]: THE SOUTH SEATTLE COMMUNITY COLLEGE PROGRAM ISN’T QUITE A DEGREE — IT’S KNOWN AS A “CERTIFICATE” — AND PROGRAMS LIKE IT MAY END UP PLAYING A MUCH BIGGER ROLE IN EDUCATING THE WORKFORCE OF THE TWENTY FIRST CENTURY … AND GETTING THEM TO FILL THE SEVENTY THOUSAND JOB VACANCIES IN WASHINGTON STATE.
BRIAN BOSWORTH: The– the economic returns to certificates are very solid. It’s an under-utilized– credential and an under-utilized set of curriculum to produce the kind of workers we need in today’s economy.
RICK KARR [narration]: BOSWORTH BELIEVES THE COMPOSITES CERTIFICATE PROGRAM AT SOUTH SEATTLE COMMUNITY COLLEGE IS A MODEL FOR THE KIND OF VOCATIONAL EDUCATION THE COUNTRY NEEDS. THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR AGREES: IT GRANTED NEARLY TWENTY MILLION DOLLARS TO HELP THE COMMUNITY COLLEGE AND NINE OTHERS BUILD THE NATIONAL STEM CONSORTIUM. THE SCHOOLS DEVELOP CURRICULA FOCUSSED ON FIELDS THAT’RE RELEVANT TO THEIR LOCAL LABOR MARKETS — IN COMPOSITES … CYBER TECHNOLOGY … ELECTRIC VEHICLES … ENVIRONMENTAL TECHNOLOGY … AND ROBOTICS AND HIGH-TECH MACHINERY. THE PROGRAMS ARE LESS THAN TWO YEARS OLD, SO IT’S TOO EARLY TO TELL JUST HOW SUCCESSFUL THEY ARE … BUT OTHER COMMUNITY COLLEGES ARE STUDYING THE MODEL. BRIAN BOSWORTH ADVISES THE CONSORTIUM. HE SAYS ITS REAL INNOVATION … IS MAKING THOSE CURRICULUM PLANS AVAILABLE ONLINE TO ANY OTHER SCHOOLS THAT WANT TO USE THEM … FOR FREE.
BRIAN BOSWORTH: It’s all open source. That’s the idea. That any community college anywhere can look on the platform, see that this set of courses, the whole program, has already been developed, and then pull that into their own course catalog, if you will. And they don’t have to rebuild it themselves. And they know that it’s been vetted by some of the best employers in the country. And that the curriculum materials that support it represent some of the current best practice in the industry.
RICK KARR: People used to learn the hard skills a lot on jobs, though.
BRIAN BOSWORTH: Right.
RICK KARR: –there on the shop floor. Why aren’t employers doing that now? I mean if you have these composite companies in this area, why aren’t they training the workers themselves?
BRIAN BOSWORTH: Well, they’re short-sighted, for one thing. They’re very focused on quarterly earnings. They’re very focused on keeping costs down. And employers are– are– shirking their responsibility to develop stronger technical skills in– in the– in the workplace.
RICK CARR: I think back 50 years ago, my grandfather working in a steel mill outside of Chicago, they trained him.
JOHN JANICKI: Right.
RICK CARR: They had an apprenticeship program. The employer trained them.
JOHN JANICKI: Sure.
RICK CARR: Why shouldn’t you be training the workers—
JOHN JANICKI: Well we train– this is just a start. The amount of money that we put into training is immense. I bet you we spend 2 or $300,000– by the time we get real productivity out of them. It’s a tremendous amount of training. And so the only th– the– the thing that the community college does for us is if people finish, they have a desire to be in composites, or into some kind of manufacturing.
RICK CARR: So it’s almost like a screening process
JOHN JANICKI: It’s a screening process.
RICK KARR [narration]: STUDENT NADIYA OLUSOLA WILL FINISH THE COMPOSITES PROGRAM AT SOUTH SEATTLE COMMUNITY COLLEGE IN JUNE — AND SHE SAYS SHE ALREADY FEELS LIKE SHE’LL BE PREPARED FOR A JOB LIKE THE ONES ON OFFER AT JOHN JANICKI’S COMPANY.
NADIYA OLUSOLA: I’ll be ready. Not only do I have the vision to get a job, I’ve got the skills and, you know, the things that I need. And so I’m gonna claim a job so that I can be workin’ and– and– and get outta this homelessness situation and– and be able to, you know, get some affordable transportation, you know, start over again, you know. They said yeah, where there’s a will, you know, there’s a way.
JEFF GREENFIELD: Joining us now is the Obama administration’s man charged with, among other things, worrying about the future of the American workforce. Department of Labor Acting Secretary Seth Harris is in Washington DC. Welcome Mr. Secretary.
INTERVIEW WITH SETH HARRIS
JEFF GREENFIELD [narration]: THIS WEEK ONLINE, TAKE PART IN OUR WEEKLY POLL. THE TOPIC: FINDING JOBS AND SEE WHAT JOBS TRAINING PROGRAM YOUR STATE HAS TO OFFER. VISIT PBS.ORG/NEED TO KNOW.
JEFF GREENFIELD: Finally, American Voices. Our focus this week: preventing discrimination against the long-term unemployed. 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.
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.
JEFF GREENFIELD: That’s it for this edition of Need to Know. I’m Jeff Greenfield. Thanks for watching.