April 16, 2014

Skilled workers are still the economy’s backbone

New Mansfield facility will need a well-trained local labor force.

For decades, America’s young people have been told that all they need is a college degree to get ahead.

More recently, a different reality has set in: After borrowing thousands of dollars for tuition, room and board and investing four years of time, many college graduates are facing the harsh reality that their degree doesn’t guarantee them a job.

At the same time, many manufacturing jobs are going unfilled because U.S. employers are having a hard time finding qualified workers.

The time has come to refocus more of our youth on what made this country great: home-grown jobs filled by local workers making American products.

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center finds more students are steering clear of the traditional path of college to find other job opportunities.

Statistics show college enrollment fell 2 percent in the 2012-2013 school year, which marks the first significant decline since the 1990s.

The decline in students who are applying to college is consistent with the improving labor market, as more young adults choose to enter the workforce without a degree and start working immediately.

In the last 40 years, more manufacturing jobs were shipped overseas. Finally, this trend is reversing as the trades see a boom in highly skilled jobs that can’t be outsourced.

In a country that champions advancements in technology, there is still a critical need for people who can build, create, manufacture and make the products we use and the places where we live.

I’m proud to be part of a 157-year old company that was based on the dream of an immigrant and is now thriving by balancing the tradesperson and the machine.

Klein Tools has eight plants and more than 1,000 employees nationwide and is focused on making quality tools that are used by electricians and other professionals.

In the last five years, we have invested more than $1 million into partnerships with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee for the Electrical Industry.

We chose to invest in these organizations to help make sure everyone from apprentices to experts has access to training and educational opportunities regardless of where they are in their career.

The recent opening of Klein Tools’ state-of-the-art advanced manufacturing plant in Mansfield demonstrates the importance of the human factor even when relying on machines to turn out products.

It’s not enough to build a plant with the world’s best technology; you have to find and train the world’s best people to use that technology correctly.

We’ve also learned the importance of working with local communities to make sure residents have access to the training they need in order to succeed, because then the neighborhood, county, state and country all prosper.

Tom R. Klein is president of Klein Tools, which has said it will grow its Mansfield facility to 585 jobs by 2021. www.kleintools.com

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