The work doesn’t end once economic development prospects sign on the dotted line.
It includes a job training process that gets the right workers to the right jobs after about a month of training.
For manufacturing jobs, the process local leaders have come up with means working with these companies closely to develop a specific curriculum that allows them to take stock of prospective employees.
It also puts those company executives in the same room with those who know the local labor market and know the right talent is here.
This also requires us to rethink the idea that the return of manufacturing to a prominent role in our local economy is a return to the days when you opened up the factory doors to job applicants who turned out by the thousands.
Manufacturing isn’t making a comeback because the nature of manufacturing is much different than it was in the late-1970s and early-1980s when the plants and factories began to close shop.
The new factories are much less labor intensive and the jobs are more technical and work across functions that used to be isolated. Gone are the days when a worker manned a single machine that did a single task.
The job training that the Workforce Investment Network and Southwest Tennessee Community College are getting rave reviews for from some of the city’s newest corporate citizens looks beyond the jobs already secured to other jobs that might come specifically for a trained workforce.
These are good paying jobs that underemployed workers now making minimum wage and frequently working another job as well should be drawn to. These workers should be sought out.
Drawing them to better paying jobs will force other employers to pay more in order to compete for a work force that is worth the higher pay.
Wages at a certain level are a specific requirement of tax breaks and other regulated incentives that are being debated once again with incentives being sought by International Paper Co. for an expansion.
The debate is a necessary part of the process. So is an examination of the true impact of these multi-faceted incentives. The wage requirements began as a specific decision by political leaders to move away from the days when civic leaders specifically touted an abundance of “cheap labor” to such prospects. We now know that cheap labor exacts its own costs, some of which we are still paying.
The job training programs are the kind of market force that gets at the very real wage disparity that is among the factors at the core of the city’s historically high levels of poverty. Begin to unravel that and you start to see progress in specific areas like increased parental involvement in local education and stronger communities of homes that are more than a way station between jobs that together pay what one job should.