Friday, September 7, 2012

Bishop-Wisecarver President Tunes in on Manufacturing Jobs in California

JOB TALK Earlier this morning, the nation saw its latest batch of unemployment figures — and it wasn't a pretty picture, or at least not as good as we hoped. The U.S. economy grew by 96,000 jobs in August, a boost, sure, but far below the projected 130,000 the experts told us to expect. That brings the country's latest jobless rate to 8.1 percent, a two-percentage-point drop from the previous month, according to info published today by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But that dip came from a contracted labor force, not new jobs, we're told. The current labor participation rate? A measly 65.3 percent — lower than its been since 1981, according to the labor bureau. Worse, the nation lost 15,000 manufacturing jobs.

So what does that mean for California, which is trying to bolster that sector? And what's manufacturing's role in improving the outlook for our state workforce?

ON AIR Bishop-Wisecarver President Pamela Kan ] dialed in to KCBS radio this morning, an hour after those stats became public, to weigh in on the subject. The manufacturing executive was recently handpicked by Gov. Jerry Brown to serve alongside other private sector leaders on the California Workforce Investment Board. In her new role, Kan will advise Brown on economic and workforce development policy to try to get more Californians back to work.

KCBS started the interview by asking Kan to comment on her new CWIB post and what she hopes to add to the group.

"I hope to just bring the perspective of being a smaller manufacturer to the board," she said during the live interview. "The board is a mixture of different sectors ... I have about 55 employees and I also have a union workforce, so [I want to] bring that perspective to the board."

EDUCATING THE FUTURE She also wants to bring in a focus on education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, she told the radio station. But there's a need for a skilled labor force in the manufacturing field, she added, a type of training that's not necessarily offered by four-year colleges.

"It's an issue I think our state struggles with," she told interviewers today. "We have a pretty high dropout rate and I think one reason is that we've stripped a lot of the K-through-12 education away from having any sort of experience [with] technical skill sets."

Those technical skills sets could staff manufacturing and machine shop jobs like those at Bishop-Wisecarver or any other similar company. That's why it's important to keep kids interested in tactile, technical vocational training — the labor force needs it.

"Kids that tend to have a desire ... to make things aren't necessarily as engaged in school because when they go to school they hear everything about having to go to a four-year college," she said.

What's happened is that community colleges have picked up the responsibility of offering that vocational training, Kan continued. There's an unmet need out there for trained manufacturing workers — and that training doesn't have to lead to a college degree, she said.

Ultimately, to strengthen the manufacturing sector will only improve the economy, she said. We need people "who make things."

"You can take us as an example," Kan said. "We supply into all industries because we make a basic product that allows lots of different people to make things move ... but the skill set that's taken across the board to support these [jobs] is all pretty basic ... if you have a CNC machine, you have to have someone that has to write and modify the code for the CNC machine. It doesn't matter what the end product is."