Sunday, February 08, 2009

Labor Mobility: Southwestern PA

Singapore is worried that rising economic nationalism will deter foreign-born talent from immigrating. Despite shedding jobs, Microsoft is still pushing for a more liberal visa regime for high-skilled workers from other countries. The Pittsburgh region is also concerned about a labor shortage amid rising unemployment:

Lester Sutton was one of the employers hiring students from the vo-tech school. The co-founder of Aggressive Grinding in Latrobe, Sutton has for the past several years had trouble finding qualified machinists. Last summer, he decided to do something about it. He and his staff have since invested more than 1,000 man-hours and tens of thousands of dollars to renovate the school's machine shop. ...

... Sutton is one of many business owners in Southwestern Pennsylvania who are concerned about a shortage of skilled labor. Despite the deteriorating national economy, skilled trade jobs have been going unfilled as older workers retire. Like Sutton, employers are turning their attention to high school vocational programs, hoping to enhance the educations of their future workers.

Regional workforce development has struggled to keep up with the dynamism of economic globalization. Even if you properly retool local education, your new labor pool may be obsolete by the time it graduates. Furthermore, an increase in the supply of skilled labor might benefit business, but it is bad news for the workers.

Concerning workforce development, the interests of employees and employers are fundamentally at odds. Policy tends to be employer-centric. Pittsburgh's balkanized political geography is an artifact of that reality. Even communal investment in human capital tends to ignore what is best for the individual. Tax payers effectively subsidize the training that local enterprise requires. None of this attends to the needs of the workers. Short of a return to the era of unions, greater geographic mobility is the only answer.

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