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Are U.S. workers unskilled?


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(CNN) -- According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the United States has lost 3 million manufacturing jobs in the course of the past five years, but the National Association of Manufacturers says manufacturing jobs in the country are going unfilled because U.S. workers are unskilled.

Jerry Jasinowski, president of The Manufacturing Institute, the research and education arm of the National Association of Manufacturers, joined Lou Dobbs Thursday to explain this finding and issues facing manufacturers and their employees.

DOBBS: We'll probably have a debate, Jerry, a positive dialogue, and I hope that we don't find ourselves in complete disagreement, but it's good to have you here. Jerry Jasinowski.

JASINOWSKI: Thank you so much, Lou. And let me just say at the very beginning that I agree with an awful lot of what you have to say with respect to manufacturing. Clearly, issues like unfair trade, the whole business about not having adequate emphasis on manufacturing in this country, and understanding its base, and I think that defending the middle class worker is very important.

And I think that the skill study, in part, was a call to arms that we really have to invest more in our worker, because the competitive world is changing, and we're going to compete on innovation and ideas.

So I'm delighted to be here, and I think we have more in common than some people may think.

DOBBS: Well, good to have you here, and I think I'll take that as an olive branch, and I appreciate it, Jerry.

I hope we're all concerned about the same things, the national interest, the security of our workforce, the education, the training, the opportunity, because it's the foundation of the country that gives us a strong, resilient middle class. But when the report comes out that the reason we're not manufacturing more is because we don't have enough skilled workers, it sort of strikes me in the face, because over the course of the last five years, we've lost 3 million manufacturing jobs. We're watching Ford, we're watching General Motors, Delphi, company after company shut down manufacturing jobs in this country. We watched 25 percent of the tool-and-die jobs in the country disappear. It just doesn't make sense to me.

JASINOWSKI: Well, I can understand why you say. I think, you know, how is it explainable that you can lose several million jobs and then have skill shortages.

The reality of it, Lou, is that we've got a dramatic change in manufacturing skill requirements. The survey you're talking about had 75 percent of the manufacturers saying a high performance workforce was the most important means of competing going forward. And that's a different kind of manufacturing jobs. It's high skilled. It's statistical. It's high technology. And it is not the job of the past.

Secondly, we've got a recovery under way. And manufacturing is now hiring again. And manufacturing is in really pretty good shape. It's growing faster than the economy as a whole. So people are starting to hire. Now, they're not going to hire all those jobs back, but they are hiring.

DOBBS: The number of job cuts in technology, Jerry, as you know through the first quarter of this year -- first three quarters, those job cuts are up 20 percent. We've watched manufacturing wages hold at $8.50 an hour on the national basis in real terms. They're just about where they were 30 years ago.

If there's a shortage of skilled workers, why in the world aren't the manufacturers in all industries paying higher wages? Because in economics, as you and I both know, if there's demand, prices are going to rise, all other things being equal.

JASINOWSKI: I think it's important to invest more in manufacturing workers with respect to skills and training, but I think those -- that $8 figure you used just doesn't represent manufacturing as we know it today, Lou. That's 25 years old. And we don't even have the number of hourly workers we used to have.

If you look at the total manufacturing workforce today, the average compensation is about $50,000. If you add benefits, it's over $60,000. That's 25 percent higher than what we've got in the rest of the economy. The problem is that manufacturers and others are not investing enough in skills training. And this report argued that manufacturers ought to invest more. So we're not blaming workers. If anything, we're seeing manufacturers ought to put their arm to the wheel a little better.

DOBBS: Well, this is all well and good. And let's talk about the basic economics. As you know, I'm critical of the business practice, of outsourcing good-paying American jobs to cheap foreign labor markets and the effect it has. I'm critical of running up a $4 trillion external trade debt because our business interests, large business interest, primarily U.S. multinationals, think it's just fine if this country runs a trade deficit that at the current rate within three years will amount to about 10 percent of our entire GDP.

At some point, rationality has to set in even for special interests, doesn't it?

JASINOWSKI: Well, I don't want to make you feel too good. But, you know, I share your concerns about the trade deficit. I mean, we can't afford a trade deficit at this level. That's why I've argued that we ought to do more to get exchange rates so that they properly reflect competitive fundamentals, particularly the Chinese exchange rate.

So I share your concern there. I think that, though, if we're worried about the trade deficit, the key to that is innovation and ideas and investing more in the skills and education. We are behind, Lou, in this education and skills area. And I just want to say that this is an approaching crisis at all levels, and we ought not to minimize it.

DOBBS: Jerry Jasinowski, you have shocked me by the level of agreement. Better be careful, though, the NAM -- they might create one of those Jasinowski watch sites like they've got on Lou Dobbs. You got to be careful.

JASINOWSKI: Well, look I'm really delighted that we could talk. I look forward to coming back and talking to you about this skill issue, and any other issue, anything that you've got on your mind at all, Lou, I and the institute and manufacturers would be delighted to talk about.

DOBBS: Well, come on back. It's a delight to talk with you. And doggone it, this sounds rapprochement to me. I appreciate it. Thank you. You're a class guy.


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