A frequent lament of the business community is that it often has to hire new employees from a local work pool that increasingly lacks basic reading, writing and math skills. Indeed, it is estimated that a shocking 40% of the high-school graduates who choose to attend college need remedial education. Unfortunately, it is easy for executives to point fingers at educators who have opted to lower academic standards rather than deal with failures. And it is equally as easy for executives to shake their heads in befuddlement at a confusing patchwork of scattershot, poorly directed government programs. After all, the federal government alone, at last count, was spending over $120 billion annually on nearly 760 education and training programs that are administered by 39 separate agencies. But, regardless of whom is to blame for the increasing number of people without the level of skills necessary for today's work world, it is time for business to quit placing blame and add education to an already full agenda of community responsibilities. "It is in the best interest of most manufacturing companies. . . [to] be on the front-end of the workforce-preparation process, rather than just a recipient," says Richard Schellinger Jr., human-resources manager for an FMC Corp. plant in Homer City, Pa. Personnel from FMC's Homer City location, for example, helped an area vocational-technical school develop a program geared to machining technology. FMC also arranges discussions between employees and students who are interested in career opportunities, so the students know what skills they need to learn. Another good example: family-owned and operated Taco Inc., a Cranston, R.I., manufacturer of pumps for HVAC systems. John White, executive vice president, recently told IW that neither the company's 20% annual labor productivity gains nor its near-doubled sales would have been possible without the influence of the company's four-year-old Taco Learning Center.
The cost to operate Taco's learning center: $300,000 annually, or an estimated $750 for each of its 450 employees. The center offers more than 70 courses, including a course in English as a second language, because more than 30% of the company's workforce is foreign-born. "Helping employees better themselves on the job can have the kind of results that show up on the company balance sheet," says White. That's a lesson more corporate executives need to learn.