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Even as the U.S. labor picture improves, the manufacturing sector is still struggling with a shortage of workers and raw materials. An analysis by Deloitte found that over two million manufacturing jobs will be unfilled through 2030. Economic correspondent Paul Solman looks at a program that's preparing inner city high school students for high-skill, high-paying factory jobs.
Even as the labor picture in the United States improves post-pandemic, the manufacturing sector is still struggling with a shortage of workers and raw materials.
An analysis by Deloitte found that over two million manufacturing jobs will be unfilled through 2030.
For his Making Sense reporting, Paul Solman looks at a program that's preparing inner-city high school students for high-skill, high-paying factory jobs.
It's the latest in our Work Shift series, which focuses on navigating the job market in this time of COVID and the future.
OK, here's a dream confluence. First, the problem kid from inner-city Louisville.
Growing up in a troubled neighborhood I would have been wrong place, wrong time, probably end up in the system.
Next, a potentially problem high school.
This is a school that's 80 to 90 percent free and reduced lunch. A third of the kids in this school qualify for English second language or special education services.
So what you're talking about is a school with significant at-risk population.
Finally, a huge local manufacturer with jobs it can't fill.
We currently don't have enough workers to continue to run our factories, whether it's here in Louisville or in Georgia or Alabama or Tennessee.
You see where this is going, right? But stick with me. Admittedly, just one company, one school, only a few kids, but they're trying something pretty new here, because they have to, the economy has to.
Let's start with the kid, Jaquez Neal.
I would have been one of those just working in a fast-food restaurant. And I didn't want my future to be that. Not at all.
So, what was he doing in school?
Neal's mother is Taneda Thompson.
Fighting, walking out of class, getting smart with the teachers. You name it.
Getting into trouble?
Staying in trouble from pre-K until ninth grade. He took lighters to school one time and tried to light a girl's hair on fire. I don't know.
But, today, as a high school senior?
None of that.
Diagnosed with ADHD and ODD, oppositional defiant disorder, her son was medicated from age 5.
He's been off of it for about a year now. And he hasn't been to his therapist in about three years.
As of 10th grade, a transfiguration.
I literally do research about engineering technology so I can get more mental stage about stuff. So I know how a refrigerator is made. I know how a dishwasher's made. I know how car's made. Something new every day. That's how I want to use the rest of my days.
Jaquez Neal is now a star student, working his butt off, headed to college next fall, in large part because Doss High School reinstituted vocational ed.
Pick a category and a dollar amount.
Using every trick in the book to make even the most boring parts of it palatable.
Worker safety for 100.
This is how teacher Greg Ash preps students for their certified production technician exam.
Material handling for 400. Video daily double.
Drains should be protected when unloading what?
But the main attraction here, hands-on learning.
I don't want to sit there and talk about it. I want to be hands-on. So once I learned that we got a lab, I was intrigued. I was happy. No hesitation. I was like, yes, get me in there, get me in there.
Is the key to it that you have got a shop like this, that you have stuff you can physically be doing?
Yes, I have a lot of resources. Now that I'm in a lab, it's like I can go in there and build anything that I want. It's fun. Like, it's the best thing ever.
Sitting behind a desk for 90, 100 minutes, it doesn't work for him. But education like this, an alternative, works for him perfectly. And he has excelled in it.
The program has kept Charles Malone going too.
I had built a can crusher at one point.
A can crusher?
Mm-hmm, with pneumatics. Way better than a classroom, for sure.
His mother had what she thought were loftier aspirations for him.
You wanted him to go to college, no?
I did want him to go to college, but he had no interest in college. I kind of thought you had to get a college education to do something. But this turned my thoughts around.
A major change?
Perhaps even more to the point, says county school superintendent Marty Pollio, education like this makes sense in every sense of the phrase.
When kids see a skill that is going to specifically lead to something, a certification, a high-paying, high-skilled, high-wage job, they're much more likely to be engaged in the school.
And that's where GE Appliances, now owned by the hands-off Chinese firm Haier, comes in, with a program called GEA2DAY, outfitting Doss High School with a manufacturing lab, luring kids into two-day-a-week paid apprenticeships at its ginormous factories nearby.
As sophomores, they can go to GE Appliance Park and they can see what they're learning in the classroom relates to real-world experience. Then, as juniors, they are usually going to work for them during summer works program. And then their senior year, for the ones that are 18, get to co-op on Mondays and Fridays through the GEA2DAY program and get even more real world experience.
And get paid.
Starting at $15.50 an hour, plus benefits. And high schoolers aren't the only ones who work two days a week. So does Jayme Maskey, who switched from full-time after giving birth to her first child.
I picked the program because I wanted to be there for my son and watch him grow.
Haylee Miles is in college. Her friends ask why she works in a factory.
And I tell them they have a tuition reimbursement program, I work there two days a week, and it helps pay for college.
Renee Jumper is older, 47. But, during COVID, she felt her kids needed her help with schoolwork.
Working two days a week at GEA has enabled me to homeschool them.
We thought we were targeting high school students that maybe weren't thinking about going to college, but a lot of women showed up and came to work, and did phenomenal.
But wait a minute, I said to GEA's A.J. Hubbard, most people think manufacturing is in long-term decline in this country, and now the robots are coming. So why are you trying so hard to find people to fill jobs that might not be there?
I don't know that manufacturing is declining. We have added 100 robots here, but we have added 1,000 jobs just in the last year.
And the robots?
Even though we're adding robots in…
GEA's Valorie Hughes:
… it's elevating the skill set of the individuals that we need in the jobs.
Technical skills like those Doss High is now trying hard to teach to meet the demand out there. But doesn't superintendent Pollio worry about education serving business, and doing so to the detriment of a broader education?
So I have been asked many times, are you forcing a kid to choose their career as a 15- or 16-year-old?
And so what I usually say is absolutely not. Our job as a school district is to make sure kids are engaged and passionate and college- and career-ready and give them multiple pathways along the way.
Jaquez Neal There's so many doors can be opened, and the possibility is endless.
Jaquez Neal is headed to college in the fall. But he's got a vocational fallback, high-tech manufacturing.
For the "PBS NewsHour," Paul Solman.
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Paul Solman has been a business, economics and occasional art correspondent for the PBS NewsHour since 1985.
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