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5/30/2017 | 2 MINUTE READ

Connecting with the ‘Profoundly Disconnected’

From the Editor
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Foundation formed to help close the skills gap.

I’ve been reporting about plastics for nearly 30 years, but my first job in business journalism was for a magazine that was directed at the freight-transportation industry. It was in the early 1980s, I was fresh out of college, and it was actually an exciting time to be reporting about shipping—especially on the trucking and rail- freight industries, which had just been deregulated by Congress.

During my seven-year period at this job, I remember being told over and over by my more-seasoned colleagues at this publication—and by freight industry experts I would speak with on a regular occasion—that the U.S. economy was in the process of a paradigm shift, moving away from being based largely on manufacturing and toward more service-based industries. Honestly I didn’t know what this meant at first, but the people telling me this were sure it would be a good thing for the freight-distribution industry. This was a real head-scratcher for me: I mean, our readers were responsible for the shipment of their goods to customers, and if there were no goods being manufactured for them to ship...?

Anyway, that paradigm shift I was hearing about sure did unfold. Manufacturing became a smaller piece of the economy, “outsourcing” and “offshoring” became part of the business parlance, and the service industry sector (financial, legal, insurance, etc., etc.) started to grow. Colleges began to adjust their curricula accordingly—in fact, a college education became mandatory to even be considered for a job—and this had a trickle-down effect on high-school programs (remember shop class?) and trade schools, which started vanishing.

So here we are in the middle of 2017. We are in full “what-goes-around-comes-around” mode. Another paradigm shift. Jobs in service-based business are drying up. The manufacturing segment is growing and there are jobs to be had. Just not nearly enough people qualified (or willing?) to fill them. 

Instead, we are graduating students with mountains of debt and degrees in fields for which job potential is currently poor. I can’t tell precisely how many 65+ year-olds I’ve spoken to in this industry who are prepared to retire but have opted not to because the pipeline behind them is empty. But there have been lots. In a recent survey, more than 90% of members of the Manufacturers Association for Plastics Processors identified workforce development as the number-one challenge they currently confront.

To its credit, the plastics industry—processors, moldmakers, key trade associations, and suppliers alike—has done a good job of stepping in by developing apprenticeship and training programs of its own. And now TV personality Mike Rowe has thrown his hat into the ring. Rowe, known mainly for hosting (and participating in) The Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs” series, has started profoundlydisconnected.com to help address the situation. Quoting Rowe on the site, “The mikeroweWORKS Foundation started the Profoundly Disconnected campaign to challenge the absurd belief that a four- year degree is the only path to success. The skills gap is here, and if we don’t close it, it’ll swallow us all.”

So who is profoundly disconnected? Most likely not you, if you’re reading this, as you’re already part of the industry. But you, according to Rowe’s website, are part of a growing manufacturing economy with “three million good jobs that no one seems to want.” The young people you would like to recruit, meantime, are facing “a trillion dollars in student loans ... and record high unemployment.”

Rowe’s foundation is a 501(c)(3) public charity that rewards people with a passion to get trained for skilled jobs that actually exist. And it’s looking for help from companies like yours to help fund them. 

I thought you’d like to know.