Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

The World According to Tim Sullivan

The business leader's unproven idea of a “skills gap” is misleading state policymakers.

By - Mar 7th, 2013 11:20 am
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Tim Sullivan, former CEO of Bucyrus International, Inc.

Tim Sullivan, former CEO of Bucyrus International, Inc.

In June 2011, Bucyrus International CEO Tim Sullivan gave a dramatic speech to a “packed auditorium of civic leaders” at a meeting of the Milwaukee 7 economic development group in West Bend, as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. Sullivan made a “confession,” that it was nearly impossible for his company to find candidates for welding jobs, that he couldn’t get the help he needed from MATC, and this was why he moved jobs to Kilgore, Texas.

“You could see how pained Tim was to put that plant in Kilgore,” Tim Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, told the Journal Sentinel.”The message for Milwaukee is to fix the workforce or die.”

Not long after this, MATC welding instructor Larry Gross wrote an op ed for the Journal Sentinel where he claimed that MATC worked with Bucyrus to create “a customized curriculum” to help students pass the Bucyrus welding test. He also noted that Kilgore offered $540,000 in incentives to the company to a build a plant there.

At the time, I expected a follow-up JS story to contrast the quite different claims of Gross and Sullivan. But no such story appeared and a remarkable narrative was established, that despite historically high unemployment, Wisconsin actually had a shortage of workers, a “skills gap” which left employers without the right kind of workers. Sullivan, who had flirted with the idea of running for U.S. Senator, was soon grabbed by Gov. Scott Walker and turned into a kind of czar of workforce training.

Some months ago Sullivan, released a long report, “The Road Ahead: Restoring Wisconsin’s Workforce Development,” that is likely to be very influential with the Walker administration.

The report has some useful information and recommendations. Sullivan argues that there is too much emphasis on four-year degrees and not enough young people considering mid-level jobs they might get with the right associate degree at a technical college. I think there’s much truth to this. I once wrote a story for the Journal Sentinel showing that most public school guidance counselors put great emphasis on a four-year degree and gave students little information about technical college courses and degrees.

But Sullivan’s report is also intended to prove there is a skills gap in Wisconsin, and there he runs smack into a wealth of reports by economists and academics which disagree. That includes one by UW-Milwaukee researcher Marc Levine, whose February report, “The Skills Gap and Unemployment in Wisconsin, Separating Fact From Fiction,” offers a blizzard of statistics that all but buries the notion of a skills gap.

Sullivan at one point in his report asserts there is a shortage of skilled welders in the state, offering the evidence that his company had problems in that regard. But Levine notes that since 2000, “employment for welders has dropped by 25 percent in Wisconsin (and by 45 percent in Milwaukee), and the unemployment rate for welders soared to double digits by 2010.”

Sullivan offers no employment data of his own, but instead cites a projection which says that by 2018 the Milwaukee region will need to fill an additional 1,860 openings for jobs with a welding or machining skill. He notes that MATC has turned out only 56 students per year with one or two-year degrees in welding in recent years. That doesn’t sound good, but given the current surplus of welders, it doesn’t prove a shortage of workers.

Levine notes that real wages for welders have actually declined in Wisconsin since 2000, and in Milwaukee by 9 percent, which suggests there is an oversupply of welders, unless the laws of supply and demand have somehow been abolished. He contrasts that to states like North Dakota, Wyoming and Alaska, “where a chronic shortage of welders, driven by the boom in the energy industry… has lead to a surge in employment and real wage growth for welders.” Wages for welders went up 22 percent in Wyoming, 14 percent in North Dakota, and 25 percent in Alaska.

As for the idea of Wisconsin facing a “competitive disadvantage” in workforce skills, Levine notes that “the educational attainment of welders in Wisconsin is markedly higher than national averages: 35.9 percent of Wisconsin welders have post-secondary education and college degrees, compared to the national average of 27.3 percent. By contrast, only 12.5 percent of welders in Wisconsin do not hold a high school diploma, compared to 22.7 percent in the country as a whole.”

Regarding Sullivan’s contention that a lack of “qualified, factory-grade” welders in Milwaukee led him to move the work to Texas, Levine notes that “the percentage of welders in Texas without a high school diploma is triple the Wisconsin rate” and “the percentage of welders without a high school diploma in Kilgore, Texas, the site of the new Bucyrus plant, is almost double the percentage of welders without a high school degree in Milwaukee County.”

Levine notes the package of incentives offered by Kilgore and the fact that average wages for welders in Kilgore, Texas are far lower than for welders in Milwaukee County. This suggests the jobs were moved because the company saved money.

Levine, however, doesn’t know what the Bucyrus welders are paid in Kilgore. In his own report, Sullivan says his company offered a starting pay of $22 per hour and adds, “There may be companies that do not pay market value for workers, but there are plenty, like Bucyrus, that pay family supporting wages and still have a difficult time finding workers.”

Sullivan may be right about Bucryrus, and may have colleagues who tell them they can’t find workers, but Levine presents a blitzkrieg of evidence (including countless other studies that have disproved the “skills gap” thesis) to prove what should be obvious: in an era of historically high unemployment there is an overall job shortage and an oversupply of well-educated workers. There are a few states (Wyoming and North Dakota) that have a job shortage, but most, including Wisconsin and the Milwaukee metro area, have far more job seekers than jobs, and have seen wages decline since 2000.

So why can’t companies find workers? A 2012 survey by Manpower asked firms why they have difficulty hiring and 54 percent said candidates were “looking for more pay than is offered.” As Atlantic writer Barbara Kiviat put it, in response to such surveys, “When firms post job openings at a certain wage and no one comes forward, we call this a skills mismatch. In a different universe, we might call it a pay mismatch.”

New York Times writer Adam Davidson came to Milwaukee and interviewed Eric Isbister, the C.E.O. of GenMet, a metal-fabricating manufacturer outside the city, who was having trouble finding skilled workers for a starting wage of $10 an hour. Davidson noted that a new shift manager at a nearby McDonald’s can earn around $14 an hour.

“I spoke to several other factory managers,” Davidson writes, “who also confessed that they had a hard time recruiting in-demand workers for $10-an-hour jobs. ‘It’s hard not to break out laughing,’ says Mark Price, a labor economist at the Keystone Research Center… ‘If there’s a skill shortage, there has to be rises in wages…It’s basic economics.’”

For 30 years or more, companies have been moving jobs to the South, then Mexico, then China, and paying ever lower wages in real, un-inflated dollars. Perhaps they are so conditioned to paying lowball rates that even the lack of job seekers isn’t telling them they don’t pay enough.

The legacy of manufacturers moving jobs to other countries has also made young job seekers — who may have seen their parents lose their jobs at bottom-line oriented companies — suspicious of such companies.

Davidson writes that Isbister “was deeply frustrated when his company participated in a recent high-school career fair. Any time a student expressed interest in manufacturing, he said, “the parents came over and asked: ‘Are you going to outsource? Move the jobs to China?’  Isbister… admitted that his answer to a nervous parent’s question is not reassuring.”

In an attempt to contest the idea the manufacturers aren’t paying enough, Sullivan does something I’ve never seen in a policy report of this kind, devoting three pages (100-103 in this sprawling document) to prove that the starting pay of $12 per hour offered by Marinette Marine was a livable wage for an 18-year-old, single, high school graduate. Sullivan does a run-down of this person’s likely monthly expenses, and shows there is enough for the person to live on (though the $101 in monthly discretionary income seems pretty thin).

But why would somebody take this job — a job history tells them could get moved to Texas or Mexico or China — if other less onerous, less dirty, more reliable jobs are out there? One could imagine some young people saying I’d rather continue to live at home and bide my time till a better offer comes along.

Levine presents some stunning statistics to illustrate the current economy. In Milwaukee, between 2000 and 2010, the percent of bartenders who have a BA degree or better rose from 12 percent to 26 percent, the percent of retail salespersons with a college degree rose from 17 percent to 24 percent and for stock clerks rose from 5 percent to 9 percent.

The statistics suggest the current economy is sorely lacking in jobs for college graduates. And perhaps, that some of these folks might have been better off getting a technical college degree. But these are also jobs that can’t be moved overseas and that often pay more (with tips) than many Milwaukee companies are willing to pay.

It may be true that there are occasional skills gaps in the state’s economy, but the overwhelming picture is one of an economy with a huge labor oversupply and shrinking wages. Sullivan’s report, in its insistence on a skills gap, is offering a badly skewed picture of the economy that is already having an impact on the policy decisions Gov. Walker is making. This does not bode well for Wisconsin.

Short Take 

-After doing more than a dozen stories on the “skills gap,” giving headlines to Sullivan’s speech and editorializing in favor of the Sullivan report, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel did no news story covering Levine’s report. Nor has it paid much attention to the overwhelming number of research reports and stories — including the Times story heavily based on Milwaukee — discounting the idea of the skills gap. Clearly the paper is convinced there is only one narrative here, and no other viewpoint will be reported.

-CEOs like Sullivan (who earned as much as $5.25 million annually in total compensation) typically cite the marketplace in defending their ever-escalating salaries. But nowhere in Sullivan’s report does he ever consider the idea that the marketplace is speaking when workers don’t show up to grab jobs for $12 an hour.

57 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: The World According to Tim Sullivan”

  1. Dan Pfeifer says:

    Goodness knows you and I don’t always agree, Dave, but here we do. At some point, looking solely at the bottom line isn’t the best way to do business or be a partner to the community. Somewhere along the line, it seems as though the idea of “You have to spend money to make money” has been lost when it comes to labor. People want to work hard, but they want to feel like there’s a reward at the end of the day for it. Maybe the extra couple dollars per hour to workers might mean profits go down some — but you have a better chance of getting better employees, who will likely do better work, who will also be better members of the community by going out and spending more. At some point, the stockholders have to lose and the workers have to win — otherwise, you’ll just continue to see the growing gap between the haves and the have nots.

  2. Dan Pfeifer says:

    I called you Dave … you’re Bruce … I am occasionally easily confused.

  3. Cee Cee says:

    Good luck with those 18-year-old welders, Bucyrus.

    The workplace fines for accidents will cost you a lot more than would paying a decent wage — although undoubtedly less than you’re paying Sullivan to spew untruths.

    Speaking of spewing untruths, it’s sad to see yet another example of the JS bias against facts.

  4. Frank says:

    Twenty years ago, $12/hr for a welding position was towards the lower range of pay.

  5. Mike Bark says:

    I’m a CPA who has a decent amount of blue collar business clients. Their biggest concern right now is finding staff. Now maybe these guys are all lying to me, but we see it out in the real world.

    I’ll take the word of my clients over a professor who doesn’t run a business and a newspaper columnist who doesn’t own a business.

  6. Cee Cee says:

    How well do they run their businesses, Mr. Bark? Do they respond to applications, return calls, etc? I have friends, laid off for a year now from jobs in construction, with skills as carpenters, welders, tilers, electricians, plumbers . . . and they can’t get a response to their resumes. When they make followup calls, if they can get anyone to answer at all, they’re told that the applications never were received. Again and again.

    Or they’re told that the jobs were filled. So much for not finding applicants. I’ll take the word of a professor and a journalist who analyze the data, not anecdotes.

  7. Frank says:

    The problem is that companies don’t want to train individuals or offer apprenticeships for newcomers using company expense. The people who already have the skills most likely don’t have any proof of certification aside from previous work records. That is where the “skills gap” was created and is more likely to grow. A few decades ago, it only took a willingness to enter this type of field. Nowadays, employers require associate degrees and certifications. The younger generation has been raised on computers and are more inclined to pursue employment in other fields. The older generation is set in their old ways.

  8. Mike Bark says:

    Cee Cee,

    One of the Companies saw a decent sized drop in sales. Obviously, I asked about it. A few people were out on workman’s compensation it turned out. My reply was, well why don’t you hire a few people. The response was that they had ads out and hadn’t gotten any qualified applicants.

    I have another client who is a head hunter who has shifted his focus from placing executives to placing people in skilled manufacturing positions because he feels he can command a premium for those services because of the demand issues for those workers.

    I know you’d probably believe a professor over people actually in business because you probably aren’t in business.

  9. duncan says:

    Again, outstanding journalism, Bruce.

  10. Joyce says:

    As is often the case, there’s truth on both sides.
    Yes, they’re not getting enough applicants, and yes, there’s an oversupply of qualified workers.
    But Tim Sullivan was among the first business leaders (this was a couple of years ago) to explain to the rest of Wisconsin this apparent paradox. The underlying cause? The combined Housing+Transportation costs of commuting to work make it an unwise financial decision to apply for a job where sufficient bus lines do not run.
    I was impressed at the time that he had the courage to take strong positions that crossed Left/Right boundaries. Let’s hope he finds encouragement to continue on that path.

  11. Alissa says:

    Start paying people what they’re worth. You get what you pay for. Thanks for the article, Bruce.

  12. edod says:

    “The workplace fines for accidents will cost you a lot more than would paying a decent wage ”

    This is where unburdening businesses with regulation comes in.

  13. Mike Bark says:

    Alissa,

    So what are people worth? What does a wage need to be for you to be happy? $50,000 a year. $100,o00? More?

    If that’s all it takes this might be a golden business opportunity for you. After all, it’s pretty easy to run a business and we all know that owners of businesses are just predators sucking the life out of their workers. This might be a great way for you to offer a competitive advantage. How much do you think the people are making at your favorite coffee shops?

  14. Bill Sell says:

    Both Mr. Isbister and Mr. Sullivan (during the Doyle administration) advocated (begged) for better public transit. They knew where the workers were: For Sullivan a two hour bus ride away from the factory. For Isbister, less or no bus service. Both stood in the eye of the press at (then) Bucyrus and stated they had openings, or would soon open up XXX number of jobs, if the workers had a way to get to work. At the time we were 7 years into a decline of public transportation under County Executive Walker. Today we are 10 years into the decline, with a (hate the word) cliff many can see now – next year. But nowhere in the Sullivan “shortage” study is any mention of those concerns he had when Doyle was governor. In fact, his report seems at pains to skirt around the issue of “getting to work.” As if, now, with Walker as governor, magically, the absence of transit is no problem.

  15. Grant says:

    “I’m a CPA…I’ll take the word of my clients over a professor.”

    I take it Statistics 101 wasn’t in the course requirements.

  16. Mike Bark says:

    Grant,

    Yep, I took statistics. Again, I’ll make the suggestion that all these businesses are morons who can’t find employees that you set up shop and start building a business.

  17. Mike Bark says:

    The real problem in the job market is that we’ve essentially told a generation of people that a 4 year degree is the be all and end all of getting a job. No doubt a 4 year degree is not a bad idea, but I would suggest that you get a degree in something useful.

    Let’s say you spend 4-5 years in college and get a liberal arts degree. What specifically are you qualified to do when you graduate? I can’t really use you at my accounting firm because you will not have the qualifications to be a CPA. Can you go and be a banker with that degree? Not really, as you’ll lack the finance background needed. You can’t get into any type of hard science or technical skill. Certain degrees just aren’t going to get you a job or make you an attractive hire. It just shows you got through college which in reality is not really that big of a deal.

    So that’s why we have an “overqualified” group of bartenders and waiters out there. And that’s also why if you run a diesel mechanic shop or CNC shop and you have employees miss time production will suffer because those jobs are hard to replace.

  18. Andy says:

    I ckncur with Mike Bark here. I worked for a recruiting company who did a lot of business with the light industrial businesses in New Berlin. Our business was crippled by the inability to find skilled workers in the areas of welding, machinists, metal fabrication, and othee skilled trades. Many of our clients paid good solid family supporting wages from the upper teens to over $30 an hr. Essentially every hire weade was when a worker went feom one company to another. We rarely saw new workers to the marketplace.

    I agree that companies hinder themselves by not training unskilled workers… but i cant fault them because the few that do end up having those people stolen away by other companies once trained.

    Lets also make this clear… the jobs paying $10-12 hr are not the same as a cnc operator or welder. This story seems to blur the information a bit.

    Regardless… there is a lot more to the story then Levines report and this column prwsumes to addeess.

  19. Andy says:

    Ouch… sorry for the typos! Smart phones and their tiny buttons…

  20. Fred Schnook says:

    I work for the HIRE Center, a program to train and re-employ dislocated workers. Andy & Mike, please let me know of these $30.00 per hour availble manufacturing job openings. I have an army of unemployed manufactuirng workers who are activly looking and only a few find family supporting jobs. Thanks!

    Fred

  21. Ed says:

    Mike and Andy,

    The suggestion that a four year Liberal Arts degree isn’t useful is more an expression of anti-intellectual political ideology than reality. When I compare myself to the “certified professionals” I compete with I often find three things. First, there is no one thing they know I couldn’t learn from a five minute Google search. Two, it would take me a week to make myself proficient in the knowledge contained in their certificates — maybe a month, tops. Three, they lack critical thinking abilities. Yet they’re the ones getting hired.

    The real problem is that the critical thinking skills of a four-year university grad can’t be summarized in a resume. We have breadth of knowledge and that gives us the ability to see things in context. We’re more likely to spot potential efficiencies.

    But we can only do this if given a chance, which you don’t seem willing to give us. So the so-called skills mismatch continues. It’s really more of a creativity mismatch — you’re both operating your businesses while wearing horse blinders.

    Here’s where I’m coming from. A few years after I recieved my BA I bought into the hype and decided to get an IT programming certificate at one of these tech schools. While attending classes I began to perceive that there’s something wrong with the curriculum. The instructors were giving us the barest possible introduction to programming. It was suitable for a high school course but not for adults looking to work professionally. Once I returned to my alma-mater to see what they had to offer I learned enough to know what was wrong. The instructors at the tech school had programmed computers in the 80s and didn’t understand or care to learn about modern Object Oriented programming techniques. It was terrible.

    My peers who’d taken the same classes at the tech school found that the certificates didn’t help them either. We came to the same conclusion: it’s a scam, a ripoff, a bait-and-switch. The big idea is to saddle us with thousands in school loan debt so that we’ll do anything for any price.

    Today I’m a freelance software tester (or at least I’m trying to be one) because businessmen like you guys are too damn conservative to take a small chance and hire a smart guy to do just about anything. I say you’re missing out if you believe that what you say is true, but I think it’s actually that young people — age 35 and down, born of the information age — pose a real threat to your standing. If we can literally learn anything we want at a keystroke — something you seem to be too lazy to do for yourselves — then it shouldn’t be long before we’re calling the shots. That scares you.

    It should. The sword of Damocles hangs over you. The reason I’m sure of this is because you keep the horse-blinders on. In spite of every fact you’re presented with — of which this article is only one example — you cling to your soothing media narratives. Mark my words though, the sword will fall. We’ll replace you eventually and we’re not happy.

  22. Mike Bark says:

    Ed,

    Even if you could somehow use the power of Google to pass the CPA exam without an accounting degree, the State of Wisconsin, or for that matter any other state will not let you be a CPA without an accounting degree. So, I can’t use you. An engineering firm or architecture firm can’t use you either because you could not get the professional credential. You also can’t be a doctor, lawyer, nurse or many other professions.

    Maybe that needs to change. Maybe I should be able to be a surgeon if I want because after all, I’m a reasonably smart guy and someone should just take a chance and hire me as one.

    Maybe we all should figure out a different way to hire and train people. The trouble is we’re in a competitive marketplace and most of us can’t go all in with on the job training.

  23. Mike Bark says:

    Ed,

    For what it’s worth I’m 38 years old and bucking a trend in my industry of consolidation. If I’m so weak and scared of you, I’d encourage you to do what I do and take out a loan and start a business. Instead of waiting for someone to help you, it might just be easier to take out some out of touch lazy business guy like myself.

    We even offer our CPA services for free to anyone who starts or buys a business through that process because we actually believe in helping business get started. I’ll await your contact at mike@edgeadvise.com

  24. Ed says:

    “Maybe I should be able to be a surgeon if I want because after all, I’m a reasonably smart guy and someone should just take a chance and hire me as one.”

    That’s just mocking. It’s also a straw man. Who said anything about being a surgeon? I certainly didn’t. All of my points still stand.

    Also, (and this was good for a laugh) you’re not a reasonably smart guy.

    The crux with all of these career opportunities is that in order to pursue any of them I would need to go into tens of thousands of debt to get the necessary schooling and that would essentially make me an indentured servant for the rest of my days. And for what? To enhance some businessman’s profit margin? That’s not a contribution to society, it’s surrender! Even if the credentials helped me find employment, they would not make me free to achieve my full capabilities, they would just make me a vassal. And that’s at the four year institutions. The two year technical schools are cheaper, yes, but they compensate by sufficiently watering down the curriculum such that they convey no really empowering knowledge.

  25. Mike Bark says:

    The surgeon thing is not a straw man. You made the claim that anyone can go to google and learn anything with a few keystrokes. Why would surgery be any different? Or is that a job that needs a bit more training?

    Like I said, if you’re that smart of a guy it should be pretty easy to outsmart dullards like me and be successful. But I guess you’d rather wait for dullards like me to create an opportunity for you. I didn’t like working for other people, so I went to the bank, took out a loan, and started my own practice. You should do the same especially is you’re swinging the sword of Damocles. You even have a firm like mine that will help you start the business for zero charge. Unlike a lot of networking groups that talk about helping people start businesses, we actually do something about it. Then all you have to do is be successful. It’s pretty easy. I know I look at our firm of 15 people and chuckle about how easy it was to build that up.

    I got my Accounting Degree from UW-M in 1997. That same degree today would cost me about $25,000 today which admittedly is much more than the approximately $10,000 it cost back then. To me, that’s doable. I mean, an idiot like me managed to graduate with said degree whilst working 30+ hours a week during college. Then my employer paid for me to get my Master’s Degree from that esteemed institution.

    Now, you’ll get no argument from me that most of the University system is a scam. The costs have spiraled out of control. Kids have been sold a bill a goods that all they need is a college degree to be successful. The only people I see getting rich off that system are the administrators and the tenured faculty.

  26. Ed says:

    I didn’t say you aren’t smart. I said you aren’t reasonably smart. Not reasonably smart to be a surgeon, or even a self taught one. I’m not either but I never said I was and that’s what makes it a straw man.

    I could teach myself to be a surgeon though as there are a plethora of Youtube videos I could learn from. But I wouldn’t expect anybody to hire me as one. That’s silly.

    Of course, you’re right about the university administrators but not the tenured faculty! If that were the case, I would not need to worry about being broke! My dad is tenured faculty. He’s not going to be able to retire any time soon and he’s powerless to help me out of poverty. This is especially true because of the Scott Walker budget which steals $5,000 every year from his salary. He was only making around 50 grand, which is just barely above median for a family of four. And that was only after he became tenured!

    The reason education is like that is because politicians have cut education in every budget since you were in school. That’s the reason tuition has gone up at public universities. And it’s no accident, it’s part of the conservative attack on every public good we have.

    I look forward to our meeting! I can’t wait to show you how the other half lives!

  27. Ed says:

    That is, one could hypothetically teach him or herself to be a surgeon. The information is out there! I need to clarify. In some professions there is such a thing as academic rigor. This is why you need a PhD to call yourself a scientist and an MD to call yourself doctor.

    But there is no such thing as academic rigor in business. That’s the difference! The people who succeed in business tend to be those with the most bluster. The only thing that makes it seem easy is access to capital and a slick presentation. Most people don’t have that.

    That works for business, but it wouldn’t cut in the academic world. Original contributions to science are the only thing that determine whether you get academic funding at university (or a PhD just for a start). That’s why it’s so galling when conservative politicians cut university funding. They’re undermining the only genuine progress we’ve built as a society and that may in fact be what they want.

    Education needn’t be a scam at all. But unfortunately that’s what businessmen have turned it into. They do it by reducing education to it’s lowest common denominator. It’s become a profit-making enterprise. It wasn’t like that when it still worked correctly.

  28. Mike Bark says:

    Ed,

    Maybe if I give you a bit of background, you’ll have a bit of respect for what it takes to make it in business, because from what I’ve seen most people seem to think you just sort of luck into it. Certainly I think people who have spent their life in the public sector are skeptical of us private sector folks and admittedly we’re equally skeptical of the public sector people.

    I’m the oldest of 5 kids and I grew up on the near Southside in a family that could generously be described as lower middle class. My Dad was a route driver and my Mom stayed at home with the kids. 7 people and 1 bathroom. However, my parents instilled a real sense of hard work and drive in their 5 kids. From 12 years old on my brothers and I started with a Sentinal route. That’s the one where you woke up at 4:30 in the morning to deliver some papers rain or shine. From 15 and on we each collected a W-2. I worked 30+ hours per week to put myself through college. In fact, my parents were in college at the same time as my Mom went back and my Dad went back due to disability. I know how the other half lives.

    My first real job was at a public accounting firm working around 70 hours a week at $26,000 per year. I shut my mouth, did my job, and learned the trade. Most people who start out in public accounting don’t end up in public accounting after a few years. They burn out. They can’t do the work. They lack the skills to build a business.

    I’ll be the first to admit I learned far more on the job then I did at school, but UWM did give me the essential knowledge to understand the job I would have. Put it this way, they weren’t explaining to me what the difference between a debit and a credit was.

    Around 7 years ago I gave up my manager’s position at a local firm, took out a $100,000 loan ad went off on my own, It’s risky and it’s hard dam work. I have busted my ass to get where I am. I paid my dues and decided that I could do it on my own. I am grateful to the employers I had, but I wanted to control my own destiny as much as I could.

    One of the biggest reasons we don’t charge our services to help a business start up is we understand what a tough leap that is for a person. The guts it takes. The stress it causes. They don’t need me piling on with a big bill. Of course, it does help our business in the long run, because the clients that succeed are great advocates for our firm and extremely loyal clients, but there’s a lot where we never end up getting a penny back.

    Making it in business is hard. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. There’s a real contempt a lot of people have for those of us who own a business. You’d think that would at least be enough motivation to come and unseat us if we’re such a problem.

    I’m the first to admit I’m not the world’s smartest guy, but I do know I’ll outwork and out hustle the vast majority of people.

  29. Ed says:

    And you shouldn’t have had to go through that at all. That’s my point. I hate the game, not the player, but everybody who plays the game should understand who the losers are. This system depends on there being losers and the losers are seldom at fault for their lack of success. Should they suffer because you beat them in the Hunger Games? I say no. Do you say yes? Is that where our philosophical difference is?

    Dystopian science-fiction becomes reality with only a little bit of hyperbole in the translation. That is not good. That is the system you are defending. It’s The Hunger Games writ large. You’re behaving like an animal in a natural state. Eat or be eaten. But that is not an ideal social arrangement.

    Another friend of mine has been following this conversation. He asks how you were able to do it? Getting a loan of that size would be impossible for the vast majority of people and it doesn’t matter one iota how much work they do. That just goes directly to my point in our private conversation. I wouldn’t be able to do that at all. That opportunity was never there for me. So the question is what’s different about your story that allowed you to get that much capital? The difference between you and most other people is that you were humble but not exactly poor. The difference between you and me is probably just that you don’t have a learning disability. We’re both white (that helps a lot), and neither of us was brought up in a particularly rich family, but it’s likely that you had another lucky advantage on top of that.

    So, sure, you can crow about it, but there’s still an explanation for our differences. Not to drive the point home too deeply, but there’s also an explanation for why you are doing so well while my mother — who’s also an accountant but in her middle 60s — can’t expect to retire anytime soon. And no bank is ever going to lend her 100k to start a business.

  30. Mike Bark says:

    I got the loan because I had experience, some money in the bank and a business plan that made sense. It’s not like I just graduated and PNC Bank threw the money at me. I had nearly 10 years of experience when I went off on my own. Our firm has helped more than 40 businesses get started. It’s not an impossibility.

  31. Ed says:

    My mother has 35 years of experience as an accountant. What’s the difference? Gender and age. She was told as an undergraduate in the 70s by her academic adviser not to get a Master in accounting because women don’t need to do that.

    The difference is always privilege. You have privilege. Others don’t. The opposite of privilege is equality. That’s what I want.

  32. Andy says:

    Fred-

    I do not work for a recuiting company any longer, but even now if you show me a Welder with 10-15 years experience, with a strong work history, especially one who’s willing to work second shift and I’ll show you a company who will pay him/her $25-30/hr. That is not counting overtime.

  33. Ed says:

    “If you show me a Welder with 10-15 years experience with a strong work history, especially one who’s willing to work second shift…”

    Show me a welder with a strong work history and I’ll show you a unicorn.

  34. Ed says:

    Not a bash on welders, but to point out that the limiting criteria prove the point: jobs are extremely scarce and the scarcity is artificial.

  35. Andy says:

    Ed-

    I sincerely feel for your plight, and wish you the best of luck competing with these “certified professionals.”

    That being said, I need you to roll up that jump-to-conclusions-mat and put it back in the closet. You show very little understanding of business, manufacturing, or your fellow commenters. Most exacerbating though is that you sight an example of the poor education you received from your instructors who hadn’t programmed since the 80′s which is the very point we are trying to make. The technical education system is not meeting the needs of the skilled trades. Just like you couldn’t properly program after the certifications courses, neither can recent graduates properly program a CNC machine.

    No one is trying to discourage anyone from a four year degree… the point is that there is a gap between the level of knowledge needed for a person to be a skilled worker and the knowledge that aspiring skilled workers have.

    The rest of your rant about people being treated equal (which not everyone is equal… intelligence, drive, attitude, diligence, perseverance, personality, aptitude, apathy, etc all varies), and people my age being a threat to my standing (whatever that is supposed to mean), and how conservatives have been stealing away money from higher education (even though far greater amounts were cut before conservatives were ever in charge) are just noise. Fact is, not everyone wants a four year degree… and nor do all jobs require one. The plan is merely to bring the level of education for the skilled trades up to a standard that the students can successfully enter the workforce. Right now, that’s not happening.

  36. Andy says:

    “Show me a welder with a strong work history and I’ll show you a unicorn.”

    I find this comment highly offensive. There are a lot of very hard working people who work in the skilled trades. I assure you many of them work harder then most tenured professors and teachers I’ve met.

    The economy of our state is very dependant on manufacturing and I do not think it’s fair to discount a large swatch of our population solely based on their profession of choice. These elitest attitudes need to stop if there is going to be a meaningful discussion and understanding between differing ideologies.

  37. Ed says:

    It’s only offensive because you misunderstood. No welder is going to have a solid work history precisely because your ilk have purposefully made these jobs scarce while colluding to manipulate market wages. Welders are far more important than managers and business owners. I’m not attacking welders. I’m attacking you.

    (And I can actually program perfectly well. It’s just that I don’t have any piece of paper that says so.)

  38. Ed says:

    When I say that welders are more important than business owners, I mean business owners in the traditional capitalistic sense of the word. I’m saying that business tends to be exploitative unless workers have direct ownership.

  39. Mike Bark says:

    Ed,

    There are a lot of different career paths one can take with an accounting degree, Some work in Public Accounting like I do where we have to build a clientele. Others opt for Private Industry and work as Controllers or CFO’s. Some go and work for the government. In other words, just because you are an accountant will not entitle you to anything in terms of compensation and such. You have to go out there and get it.

    I got my Master’s degree because I graduated just before a new rule was put into place that required CPA’s in Wisconsin to have 150 credits. That meant most people graduating just after me would be armed with a Master’s Degree. As such, I decided to play the game and go and get mine as well. So unless you are going to start a business, you will need the skill set that employers want and the pieces of paper they want. It might not be fair, but that’s the way it is and has been. It should not come as a surprise. If you stick to this moral crusade that you are somehow above the fray, you’ll probably always be unemployed or underemployed.

    Other than having very good parents who instilled a strong work ethic in their kids I’m not sure what privilege I’ve had. Like I said, a duplex on 31st and Lincoln was hardly a life of privilege. I know plenty of women older than me who have been very successful in accounting. My primary supervisor at SVA when I started in 1997 was a 50-something year old female partner. No doubt it was harder for a woman to be successful then, but some did and now even more do.

    I also know that one of the (3) partners at our firm is a female.

  40. Andy says:

    I’m not sure what makes you think that I’m either a business owner or manager…

    Have you ever stopped to consider that the people beating you for these jobs not only have a piece of paper but in addition they can already do the things that you say you can learn to do in a day/week by reading on the internet? At the very least, maybe in all other aspects you and they are equal, but the hiring manager just liked their attitude or personality better?

    I’m not insulting your personality or your attitude, but we all seem to mesh better with some people vs. others.

    I hear coworkers complain all the time how unfair it is that so-and-so got that promotion or another person got to go on a the big business trip… but usually it’s not about being fair, it’s because that other person put in the extra effort, had a higher skill set, worked better with the customer, or was just a better employee. Why some people feel entitled to the same things as everyone else without offering the same benefits as those people is beyond me.

  41. Ed says:

    And why some employers feel entitled to a certain level of skilled employee without offering benefits is equally beyond me!

    Every time I see a posting for a job that demands 3-5 years of experience for entry level pay, I’ll think of you guys. These jobs you say are out there — just — aren’t — out — there. There is no point of entry. None! And I cannot afford more education so I’m stuck. You want to say something that helps? Say nothing. Or better yet, look at the job postings at any Job Center in the state. The job postings that make it to the public are fly-by-night scam outfits. That’s it. Full stop. It’s a dead end.

    An example: I applied for a job I thought was for a bank teller. When I arrived at the address it turned out to be a Payday Loan Store. That information was not in the posting. It was a bait-and-switch.

    I don’t want to continue. It’s really just pointless here. The original article is about the scarcity of jobs, that this scarcity is artificial, and that employers seem to think the law of supply and demand doesn’t apply to labor. There’s data. But in the face of it you guys just parrot the same garbage I’ve heard countless times before. Hard work and industriousness have gone nowhere for me. Sorry.

    Have you read 1984 by George Orwell? In 1984 there’s a Newspeak word called crimestop. From the book, “Crimestop means the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought. It includes the power of not grasping analogies, of failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments if they are inimical to Ingsoc, and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction. Crimestop, in short, means protective stupidity.”

    That’s what we have here on your part. Willful, protective stupidity. I’m sick of it.

  42. Fred Schnook says:

    Andy:

    Please give me a call at 414-385-6989. We have many dislocated welders with solid work histories who are seeking employment. I would love to have access to those job leads as I know the employers would thrilled with these workers. The workers really are having a hard time finding a wage at that level.

    Thanks!

    Fred

  43. Ed says:

    Also, Andy, you’re ex-recruiter and Mike’s a dentistry accountant. That doesn’t exactly make you guys Svengalis of business manufacturing either. You don’t really have any claim of knowing any better than I do and what was that you said about dropping the elitism?

    And let me drop some more Orwell on you, Mike. “The older kind of Socialist, who had been trained to fight against something called ‘class privilege’ assumed that what is not hereditary cannot be permanent. He did not see that the continuity of an oligarchy need not be physical, nor did he pause to reflect that hereditary aristocracies have always been shortlived … The essence of oligarchical rule is not father-to-son inheritance, but the persistence of a certain world-view and a certain way of life, imposed by the dead upon the living. A ruling group is a ruling group so long as it can nominate its successors.”

    That’s the privilege, Mike. You’ve adopted the dominant ideology and in turn the ruling group has elected you one of it’s successors. Success has nothing to do with hard work. It’s all about sublimation to a particular world-view.

  44. Mike Bark says:

    Ed,

    About 25% of my clients are “industrial park” clients working in the areas of manufacturing, distribution and construction industries. As I told you, the dental is focused on the website because if we were going to drop a bunch of money on a website we wanted to be very targeted. You know, a business decision.

    You also know our firm has offered to help you free of charge on launching the business you want to up to the point that we’d even meet you in your hometown when we traveled there. Instead, you keep whining about Orwell (yes, I read 1984 and I even read Animal Farm) and your conspiracies about the man keeping you and your family down while saying I just got there by selling out. You’re probably beyond help, but we’re still willing to at least try.

    I’m pretty sure that my clients, all of whom at some point, fretted about taking out a loan or making a payroll or the stress that running a business was causing their marriage don’t consider themselves members of the ruling class. However, if you keep sitting on your ass and waiting for someone to throw you a great job you will be subject to the will of others.

  45. Andy says:

    Fred- I’ll try to get in touch today.

    Ed- I know little about the job marketplace for programmers… but when it comes to the skilled trades, whether you are a $12/hr machine operator or a $24/hr senior welder, I assure you that if you arn’t working temp-hire then you will almost certainly have benefits.

    This is certainly a difficult economy to find a job, I feel for you. May I suggest, instead of combing job websites, to go outside the box in your job search. I highly recommend joining groups like FUEL Milwaukee and Newaukee. In fact, FUEL has an event tonight about planning your career that might be very beneficial. Not only is it a very good topic, but you would get the chance to network with other young professionals. By far the best way to get a new job is through networking. By only applying on websites, you’re just doing the same thing as the throngs of other people looking for work. You’d have to be extremely good to land a job that way, or very lucky.

    If you need help with that strategy, there’s some good books out there that could help you. Try searching your favorite book selling website for a book called “Highly Effective Networking: Meet the Right People and Get a Great Job.”

    Speaking of reading, I invite you to reread 1984. A society in which individualism is stripped and jobs should be handed out to the masses (by… what… lottery system?), your ideals teeter dangerously close to the systtem that Orwell satires in that very book.

    As far as the article goes, we’re not blind. The data Levine’s study gathered I’m sure is correct… but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Dr. Levine is a highly politicized person who has certain beliefs that influence his work. I find that particular thought disturbing since the pursuit of knowledge should be objective. But because of his personal idealogical influence, everything I read that his data touches needs to be further researched.

    Have you considered why he doesn’t point out that the unemployment rate for welders is far below the average in both WI and the nation as a whole? Did you wonder why he decided not to point out that while the average wage for welders in WI went down by .4% it was far better then the workforce as a whole during the same time period? And finally, did you ask yourself why he would reference the education level of welders when “the opposition’s” main point is that the education system doesn’t properly train workers for a job?

    We got a long lecture about how our four year degrees teach us to use critical thinking skills. This is a perfect topic to excercise those skills in order to get a broader view of what is really going on. Clearly there is an information gap if everyone in an industry says one thing, and a 3rd party intellectual says something completely different. Dr. Levine may be on to something, but I’m not going to blindly follow his study as doctrine without asking a few questions myself.

    On a personal note, I wish you luck in your career aspirations and once again I highly recommend you go to the FUEL event tonight and others like it in the future.

  46. Ed says:

    You’ve offered to help me in June. I’m out of food now. And you call that whining? I’ve stripped you of any claim you had to being special because you “worked hard” and you’ve whined more about that. I’m just telling you how hard things are. You’ve had it easy and you think you deserve it?

    You could have easily ended up starving broke like me.

    I live across the state and I have no car. So I can’t get to your shitty job fair.

  47. Kyle says:

    Ed – Yes, life is hard. Success takes a lot of work and even more luck. If you’re starving and broke and feel like you’re without options, despite what others have suggested, then maybe you need to rethink things a bit. I didn’t catch your age, but based on your critiques of the middle-aged managers who needed to watch out, I’m guessing you’re young enough to enlist in the military. They’ll feed you, house you, pay you, train you, pay off your school loans, and give you money for additional schooling. Doesn’t sound like your cup of tea? Okay, I get that. Maybe look into Teach for America. They’ll pay you to teach others how to think critically for a few years and give you the tools to make it a career if you’d like. Don’t want to teach in disadvantaged high schools? Okay, you could took into teaching English abroad.

    I know people who have taken each of these options to turn their lives around when they didn’t think they had any options or path forward. If you don’t have the option of waiting until June for a job fair, perhaps you need to widen your search for ways to solve your problems.

    Circling back to the article, yes, there are some wage issues that go along with the skills gap. I know of a few companies that look at the unemployment rate and think that means they can get a discount on employees. They also probably get 100′s of resumes every time they post a job online, and asking for 3-5 years of experience and some specific certifications helps narrow down the pool of applicants. Does that mean they’re missing out on some talented people? Sure it does. But HR employees are just as overworked, underpaid, and oppressed as everyone else.

  48. Ed says:

    Programming is a skilled trade, Andy.

    My main point isn’t that education doesn’t train workers properly. It’s that the education doesn’t even matter to employers anymore. It’s the debt. The degree says I have debt. The debt makes us hopeless and that is what makes us willing to do your shitty jobs instead of starting our own organizations.

    The type of degree matters insofar as a degree in the liberal arts in fact makes one less employable. To have such a degree typically indicates not only critical thinking abilities but also a resistance to hierarchical control.

    More from Orwell, ” In a world in which everyone worked short hours, had enough to eat, lived in a house with a bathroom and a refrigerator, and possessed a motor-car or even an aeroplane, the most obvious and perhaps the most important form of inequality would already have disappeared. If it once became general, wealth would confer no distinction. It was possible, no doubt, to imagine a society in which wealth, in the sense of personal possessions and luxuries, should be evenly distributed, while power remained in the hands of a small privileged caste. But in practice such a society could not long remain stable. For if leisure and security were enjoyed by all alike, the great mass of human beings who are normally stupefied by poverty would become literate and would learn to think for themselves; and when once they had done this, they would sooner or later realize that the privileged minority had no function, and they would sweep it away. In the long run, a hierarchical society was only possible on a basis of poverty and ignorance. ”

    So you see, because I am not ignorant I must be poor.

  49. Kyle says:

    Okay, so you see your skill as programming, but you don’t have a 4 year degree supporting that, or a 2 year degree supporting that, or any certifications. So you must have learned to program online (there are lots of great resources for that) and put together a sample of your work so you can demonstrate that you have this knowledge. Otherwise, without certification or demonstration, you’re just trying to be the best liar.

    If you really are starving, broke, and drowning in debt, then let me recommend the military. They’ll feed you, clothe you, pay you, pay off your student loans, train you in a skill of your choosing, and pay for you to go back to school later. Or if that’s not your cup of tea, then look into ways to teach others to think, like Teach for America or teaching English overseas. Both programs are always looking for people. I know people who have taken each of these routes to get where they wanted to be, it just required them to go a little bit farther than typing ‘job’ into a search engine.

  50. Andy says:

    Ed, you are completely misinterpretting George Orwell…

  51. Kyle says:

    Sorry for doubling my point. Apparently it took a while for Urbanmilwaukee.com to thoroughly vet what I had to say. I figured after an hour (and an additional comment) that it wouldn’t ever post.

  52. Ed says:

    Yes, Kyle, actually I have an online professional profile. You can read it if you like! my.utest.com/platform/profile/EdwardRink

    Military won’t take me because of the medication I’m on, Kyle, and if I did, I would probably end up like Bradley Manning.

    I’m not misinterpreting George Orwell at all, Andy, I’m just applying his writings to my situation. You need to use your cognitive abilities to apply his writings to your own situation as well. They won’t do you any good otherwise. Read “The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism,” the book within the book “1984.” Once you have done that just take a little time to draw the connections between that world and ours. Then you should actually learn about who Orwell was so that you have some historical perspective. The short of it was that he was a committed democratic socialist his entire life. He fought in the Spanish civil war on the side of the socialists who were fighting Francisco Franco. He opposed the conservative parties in England and wrote in a letter to the British League for European Freedom on November 15, 1943, “I won’t associate myself with an essentially Conservative body” and “I belong to the Left and must work inside it.” Based on the totality of his work, if he were still around, he would probably say the same thing I will: I’m basically an uppity prole here arguing with the rank and file Outer Party members over the telescreen.

  53. Ed says:

    It is not hard to imagine that if Orwell had lived longer, IngSoc would have been IngCap for English Capitalism. Not much about Nineteen-Eighty-Four would have needed to be changed except to change the word socialism to capitalism in each case.

  54. Ed says:

    And the reason, Andy, why I think you’re a businessman is because you talk like one. You may not own a business but you’re definitely a businessman.

  55. Ed says:

    One more from 1984. Any passage from the book dealing with the Ministry of Plenty is a harsh critique of capitalism. What the Ministry of Plenty is responsible for is to plan the artificial scarcity of goods to keep the populace preoccupied with daily drudgery (in the opening chapters of the book for example Winston could not obtain fresh razor-blades). This mirrors quite well our real-life commodity markets where agricultural commodities are traded directly affecting the real price of food at the supermarket. It also mirrors the way manufacturers have created the artificial scarcity of jobs in Wisconsin to depress skilled wages as suggested by this article.

    So I would actually suggest that you reread Nineteen-Eighty-Four, Andy, because I actually read it quite recently.

  56. Kyle says:

    I think the more applicable point of your Orwell quotes is that if most people remain poor, they’ll strive for wealth. It’s of no threat to those in power if a few poor people find themselves with money. In fact, it’s critical to the system that they do, as it gives others hope of achieving wealth. What they don’t want is for you to realize that wealth isn’t what is important, because then you might want power, and then you’d be a threat.

    But to more pressing matters, unfortunately it’s March, and most of the universities hold their career fairs in February. The only school to host career fairs throughout the year that might help is Madison. As an alumni, you should have access to these even if they aren’t in your area of primary study. They have a STEM fair on April 11th that I think you should get ready for. Research all the companies and go prepared to convince them. They may not be there looking specifically for you, but I know several of the companies listed as attending are always in need of software quality and test technicians. Epic in particular would be a good company to look into. They have a philosophy of only hiring entry level positions, which means all the experience other applicants have will not give them an advantage over you there. They like to train their own and promote from within.

    That fair is 4 weeks away. I don’t know the state of your resume, but I would recommend taking another look at it. I’ve never used uTest, but you have a lot of information on there that doesn’t necessarily help you. If I were you, I would take some time to read a few of those how-to articles on the internet. Download Visual Studio Express edition, and put together a sample of software to monitor something (like, the temperature in Madison from weather.com). That way you will have some experience in writing monitoring software and you can speak to that. If you have the time to go one step further, write the test cases to validate your program. You may have already done something like this, but do it again. That way it will sound fresh in your mind when you talk to someone. Most of the people there will be HR, but they’ll probably bring along one technical person to detect BS (not the 4 year degree). Be honest about what you know and what you don’t know, but sound genuinely interested in what you do and what they do, and you’ll be fine. That technical person gets the same fake interest from so many people that honesty and the chance to talk about a project will make you stand out, and that’s a good thing when they sift through the resumes on Monday.

    That was a lot of unsolicited advice, but having been the technical person at university job fairs for a few years, and talking with others, I stand by that approach. Speak to what you know. But maybe skip Orwell just this once.

  57. Juli says:

    Oh, to have Buycrus and Tim Sullivan back together…. He is missed by many.

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