At a dinner for Silicon Valley executives in early 2011, President Barack Obama asked Apple CEO Steve Jobs what it would take to bring iPhone manufacturing back to America. “Those jobs aren’t coming back,” the typically blunt Apple cofounder told the president. Examining Jobs’s claim, the New York Times looked at Apple’s vast Chinese operations and found that workers there not only worked for less than Americans did; more of them were skilled. To oversee production and guide some 200,000 assembly-line workers, Apple, for instance, needed 8,700 industrial engineers—positions that required more than a high school diploma but less than a full college degree. While abundant in China, these kinds of employees are harder to find in the United States. “The U.S. has stopped producing people with the skills we need,” an unnamed Apple executive told the Times.
That’s a refrain that more and more American business executives are uttering these days. Even as politicians argue over how to create or keep “good jobs” in the U.S., a recent National Federation of Independent Businesses survey reported that the percentage of small businesses saying that they get no or few qualified applicants for available jobs has hit a 17-year high. Studies estimate that hundreds of thousands of positions in manufacturing firms went unfilled, even during the post-financial-crisis downturn and subsequent weak recovery, because of the lack of skilled workers. “Open manufacturing jobs are at an all-time high,” the former CEO of Siemens USA, the industrial giant, observed in December.
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