The Machine Shop and the Hair Salon
During the late 1990s, I served on the board of Team Pennsylvania, an economic development advisory group convened by then governor Tom Ridge. At one of our meetings, the state’s secretary of labor and industry, a big burly man, banged his fist on the table in frustration when the topic turned to the shortage of welders and machine-tool operators. “Our workforce is out of balance,” he steamed. “We’re turning out too many hairdressers and cosmetologists, and not enough skilled factory workers. What’s wrong?”
The problem was not limited to Pennsylvania. There were acute shortages of skilled factory workers across the United States at the time that many found perplexing. Machinists, for example, earn ...