SHUT DOWN & SHIPPED OUT

Retraining programs often don't lead to better jobs or pay

9/28/2010
BY JOE VARDON
BLADE PROJECTS EDITOR
A government-funded retraining program helped Patricia Zuber finish her accounting degree after she lost her job, but she still makes $4 less an hour.
A government-funded retraining program helped Patricia Zuber finish her accounting degree after she lost her job, but she still makes $4 less an hour.

Because of the federal safety net provided for workers who lose their jobs through international trade, the government paid for Michael Stamm to obtain a commercial truck driver's license.

And after 41 years of employment at the now-closed Young Spring & Wire plant in Archbold, Ohio, Mr. Stamm found work behind a steering wheel. He hauled baby pigs in an old school bus and drove a feed truck at Archbold Elevator, making up to $13.50 an hour.

The wage was less than the $18 an hour that Mr. Stamm was making in shipping and receiving when Young Spring & Wire closed in 2006. And he had hoped to drive a commercial truck with his license instead of shuttling pigs in an old school bus.

"That was the biggest farce I've ever seen in my life," said Mr. Stamm, 63, of Pettisville. "The government might as well stop wasting their money on [things] like that."

Worker training in general - and retraining for displaced factory workers in particular - is at the heart of manufacturing and economic development strategies at the White House and in Ohio. As those strategies shift, the training component also continues to evolve.

SHUT DOWN & SHIPPED OUT: A Blade investigation

Since 1974, the federal government has funded retraining for workers who lose a job because of international trade, and there are numerous programs at federal, state, and local levels totaling billions of dollars for new and displaced worker training.

Mr. Stamm and his co-workers qualified for federally funded - and state of Ohio-facilitated - retraining and salary assistance when Carthage, Mo.-based Leggett & Platt Inc. closed Young Spring & Wire four years ago and shipped a small portion of the work to Canada.

Unfortunately for those workers, changes to the federal trade adjustment assistance program were not enacted until 2009.

The Blade spoke with more than a dozen former Young Spring & Wire employees who said they were denied training, their benefits were revoked, or had their training was delayed by stacks of bureaucratic roadblocks. Many of those workers pursued training in office management, nursing, and trucking - far away from their roots on a factory floor.

Of those who completed government-sponsored training, few are being paid more now than they were while employed at the Leggett & Platt facility in Archbold.

Patricia Zuber, 51, of Oakwood, Ohio, in Paulding County, was already working toward an accounting degree at Northwest State before she lost her $16.54-an-hour job at Young Spring & Wire.

Ms. Zuber said the government picked up the tab for the rest of her training, and she did find a job using some of the skills she learned obtaining her degree. But she also said she's making about $4 an hour less and is closer to losing her house now than she was when Leggett & Platt closed the Archbold factory.

"The whole thing is to try and better yourself, and that didn't happen," Ms. Zuber said.

When Mr. Stamm and Ms. Zuber lost their jobs at Young Spring & Wire, they were encouraged to seek training in fields outside of manufacturing because factory jobs were in decline.


Today, even though factories continue to close, there are two training programs percolating in Ohio that are manufacturing-intensive and intended to lead to new, high-paying factory work.

The first program, emanating from the National Association of Manufacturers' Manufacturing Institute, is to create a nationally recognized skills certificate for training received at community colleges.

The program, funded by a $1.5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is in its pilot stage, with one trial being conducted at Lorain County Community College.

In the Manufacturing Institute's program, for example, displaced workers who take a welding course at their local community college would receive American Welding Society Certified Welder's credentials.

Open to both laid-off workers and students preparing to enter the work force for the first time, the program is aimed at making the training received more potent on both resumes and as an incentive for potential employers considering locations to open a factory.

"The problem was that the training was not necessarily demand-driven," Manufacturing Institute President Emily DeRocco said of current government retraining programs.

As an assistant secretary of labor under President George W. Bush, Ms. DeRocco managed the expansive federal trade adjustment and displaced worker training programs.

"The training did not necessarily align to the competencies and skills that industry required," Ms. DeRocco said. "Industry knows what skills and competencies it needs. Industry, in large measure in the past, hasn't relied on these public work-force systems because they haven't been trained to skills in demand."

The Ohio Board of Regents is developing its own certification program for manufacturing skills, although officials say there is no timetable for its implementation.

Responding to Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland's call to boost training for factory workers, the state is collaborating with Ohio businesses on a manufacturing skills program in which training will lead to a certificate recognized by in-state manufacturers.

Rob Evans, a spokesman for the board of regents, said the program is in its developing stages as the governor's work-force policy advisory board irons out details such as what skills training will be offered and where the training will take place.

Ms. DeRocco of the Manufacturing Institute said she met with the Ohio Board of Regents about incorporating her program statewide.

Mr. Evans confirmed a discussion took place but couldn't say when - if at any point - the state would consider entering into a formal partnership with the Manufacturing Institute or incorporate the institute's training program into the state's still-budding program.

"We're ready and anxious to move forward" in Ohio, Ms. DeRocco said.

Contact Joe Vardon at:

jvardon@theblade.com

or 419-724-6559.