MELISSA BLOCK, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
As high as the unemployment rate is right now, somehow across the U.S., there are still roughly three million job openings. Some experts say that for too many of these jobs, employers are having trouble finding qualified people. They say the problem is that technology is outpacing efforts to educate and train American workers.
As part of our series on human capital, NPR's Chris Arnold visited a factory outside Boston that's doing something about it.
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CHRIS ARNOLD: Some people might think that working in a metal parts factory would mean wearing greasy overalls and laboring in a dimly lit and maybe dangerous place. In reality, though, today's advanced manufacturing facilities look more like well-lit, clean airplane hangers full of super high-tech equipments.
Mr. CARL PASCIUTO (President, Custom Group): There's probably $2 million worth of machines in your eyeshot right here. And that's what's necessary to survive.
ARNOLD: Carl Pasciuto is president of the Custom Group. The company makes metal parts for airplanes, submarines and just about anything else that needs precise and high quality construction. The machines here cut the parts out of blocks of aluminum, steel or titanium.
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Mr. PASCIUTO: Yeah, I mean, the control panel on this machine looks like the inside of an airplane cockpit or something. Yeah, the technology today makes it easier, the machines faster, better, but it also requires a lot of training.
ARNOLD: But Pascuito says there just aren't enough people getting that training. The company has 90 employees. And in recent years, Pascuito has had to hire a string of temporary workers, but he says most just didn't have the right skills and education and didn't work out. It was a serious problem. So now, the company has done something unusual. It's actually started its own training school.
Mr. TODD DELLAPORTA (Lead Instructor, Custom Group): So if we're going to take X squared plus B squared, or A squared plus B squared equals C squared.
ARNOLD: In a classroom set up at one end of the building, Todd DellaPorta is teaching trigonometry to 12 adult students. DellaPorta is the lead instructor at the new school. He says the students' education level and work experience is all over the map, but most are doing pretty well.
Mr. DELLAPORTA: That's what always amazes me is that they come from all walks of life. One of them used to sell jewelry, he was a jeweler. One of them was a health and fitness. One was a welder, which is one other thing that makes this trade really, for lack of a better word, cool.
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ARNOLD: The students get experience cutting metal parts in the school's own machine shop, where they learn to use modern computer-controlled machines. And just about all of the students here have actually been hired by this or other local companies, many before they even graduate.
Patrick Lubega is an immigrant from Uganda who was laid off from his job in a printing factory a couple of times over. He started seeing job openings in online ads for this kind of work.
Mr. PATRICK LUBEGA (Employee, Custom Group): Whenever you go on Craigslist, you're going to find a hundred of jobs in this field. So I'm like, this is the field I want to be in.
ARNOLD: Lubega's now been hired by the company, and he's continuing to take classes.
Mr. LUBEGA: I mean, in this trade you have to keep learning more stuff because they bring in new machines all the time, man.
ARNOLD: And that's the challenge. Across many different industries, keeping pace with the innovation.
Mr. ED GORDON (President, Imperial Consulting Corp.): Every business sector in this country right now cannot find the right talent.
ARNOLD: Ed Gordon is a consultant and author in Chicago who has been tracking what he sees as a widening skills gap in the American workforce.
Mr. GORDON: The difference between a white collar and a blue collar job is over. The jobs that will be esteemed are going to look a lot more like "Star Trek" because the whole economy around the world is further going into more and more advanced technology.
ARNOLD: And Gordon says the current educational system and private sector training efforts are not preparing people well enough. He says, take manufacturing: Government data shows that in a recent one year period, job openings doubled, but hiring only rose 13 percent - evidence, Gordon says, of the lack of available skilled workers. He says that needs to change.
Mr. GORDON: We will lose our technology leadership and the middle class will have been greatly reduced.
ARNOLD: Some economists think that Gordon is overstating just how serious a problem this is. They say the economy has been facing much bigger problems with this latest recession.
But either way, Gordon would like to see companies, school systems, and nonprofits work together to find better ways to teach Americans the skills that they will need to find good jobs.
Chris Arnold, NPR News, Boston.
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