October 5, 2023
Why are some jobs more attractive than others? Why are some organizations able to succeed with “players” cut from other companies? Why are some places always reorganizing and re-staffing? These questions are not just fodder for the sports pages. I grew up in a town where just about anything was made. Milwaukee in the 1960s could boast to be home to “world class” companies in beer, food products, machinery, tools, electrical parts, cranes, construction equipment, motorcycles, small engines, and — most important for me — gears. Your hometown may have thought the same way about itself. Did all this excellence just happen because the stars aligned and great people washed up on the shores of Lake Michigan after the Civil War? Of course not! And there was no program to incubate high-paying jobs or create a “center of excellence.” My new hometown, Oil City, Pennsylvania, was once home to three Fortune 500 companies; a town of 25,000 people had three huge companies start here. And that is the key thing, somebody started something. They did not enter a contest and win world headquarters — they grew them. Sadly, the companies outgrew the area. But that is a topic for another day. Whenever I see or read a story about manufacturing firms not finding enough “qualified” workers, I ask myself a number of questions. The obvious ones, regarding things like paying competitive wages and benefits, are usually not the reasons why the jobs go unfilled. Next on the list, at least recently, is why so few applicants can pass the drug screening. Is it a societal issue beyond the HR department’s purview, or a case of the opportunity not being attractive enough to elicit a change in recreational habits? Legalization of pot around the country is not going to make this problem go away, so perhaps it is time to reconsider just how disqualifying it is for many jobs. I am much more concerned about the lack of interest in great jobs in a trade that has kept me challenged for going on 48 years. If you are a gear industry lifer and you care about our industry’s future, I urge you to share your enthusiasm with the young people you meet. Be proud of what you do. Talk about it at those family gatherings. Little ears are listening and one of them may need that spark of enthusiasm to start them, too, on a rewarding life in gears.