Video: American worker retools with new skills

  1. Closed captioning of: American worker retools with new skills

    >>> we're back with our special series this week, the american economy at the crossroads. tonight a closer look at the shift away from old line manufacturing in this country, and toward information technology , and how american workers have to retool just like their workplaces. but where do you get those tools? brings us back to the discussion on education in america . tom brokaw is here tonight with that part of the story. tom, welcome.

    >> brian, the harsh truth is, the american education system is simply not preparing workers for the modern factory, which is much more complex. requiring workers with computer literacy , math, reading and reasoning skills. so some companies in the industrial midwest are stepping up with money and programs. even in the dead of winter, joe snyder doesn't mind heading to work at 5:15 a.m . he's happy to have a job. he lives in the cincinnati area, which lost a quarter of all its manufacturing jobs in just the last ten years. as a 33-year-old apprentice at mag industries, he works under the watchful eyes of mag's most senior employees. many of whom will retire soon and need to be replaced.

    >> i do feel a sense of pride here. at the end of the day , it's because of the team effort.

    >> reporter: mag, born out of the old tool and dye business, now ships fuselages from here around the world. just as manufacturing has changed, so has mag's factory floor. they need fewer workers, but workers with more specialized skills. but it's not foreign competition that is the biggest threat to mag's future, they need to find the next generation of employees. they've turned to an old idea, apprenticeship.

    >> it's been a struggle to get the mechanical and electrical discipline that we require here to build the product that we do.

    >> reporter: mag is not alone, 3 million jobs have been lost in this recession, many of them old line manufacturing jobs gone forever, to succeed in the new high-tech manufacturing jobs, you need a hot skills set, science, technology, engineering and math. there was a time in american manufacturing , that you could get a good job if you had a pair of hands, strong back and pair of work boots . not any more. now they need workers with a real skill set. if they can't find them, they have to grow them. this is one of the places that they're beginning do grow them. after his shift at mag, joe heads to gateway community and technical college . its center for advanced manufacturing opened late last year, a unique partnership between gateway and local manufacturers, who help finance a new job training center. attending classes here is part of joe 's job. mag covers his tuition.

    >> is this the future of community college education?

    >> absolutely. this is not only the future, it's the present.

    >> reporter: gateway president dr. ed hughes is firm in his belief in american manufacturing and in gateway. more than 80% of its graduates find work in their chosen field.

    >> we like to say, we'll back your bottom line . we can train the worker for your bottom line , we all win. joe snyder's uncle jim also sees the future in joe and the other young apprentices.

    >> it's amazing what they need to know now, it's all computer generated , high-tech equipment. we have a good group of kids coming through. it's the future of the company.

    >> reporter: it's also the future of this country and the working class families who were left behind by the great recession. brian, for the younger workers, this is a much easier transition than it is for the older workers who may not have been in school for a long time. and they're still uncomfortable with a computer. they have a much tougher road ahead, statistics show an unemployed male 50 to 60 years old has only a 39% chance of finding a job again in the economy right now.

    >> that's a tough road, tough demographic group . tom, thanks. we're going to continue this same thing tomorrow night, tom will be back with the story of an american city on the brink. and some of the tough calls the folks there had to make. that's home night here on the

By Tom Brokaw Correspondent
NBC News
updated 3/1/2011 7:34:58 PM ET 2011-03-02T00:34:58

Editor’s Note: This week, NBC is taking a look at the challenges and opportunities for America.  As part of the series, "America at the Crossroads," NBC's Tom Brokaw travels to Cincinnati to show how the right skill set — and an old idea — can make a difference in today's job market.

Even in the dead of winter, Joe Snyder doesn't mind heading to work at 5:15 a.m. He's happy to have a job. Where he lives in Cincinnati, afterall, has lost a quarter of all its manufacturing jobs in just the last 10 years.

Story: Finding the 'next big thing' to create jobs

As a 33-year-old apprentice at MAG Industries, Snyder works under the watchful eyes of MAG's most senior employees, many of whom will retire soon and need to be replaced.

"I do feel a sense of pride here," Snyder said, "and at the end of the day it's because of the team effort."

There was a time in American manufacturing when you could get a good job if you had a pair of willing hands and a strong back. Not anymore. Now manufacturers say they need workers with a real skill set in order to design and build their high-tech products.

Finding the next generation of employees with the right type of skills is one of MAG's greatest challenges — not foreign competition.

"It’s been a very big struggle to get the mechanical and electrical disciplines that we require here to build the product that we do," said MAG president Bill Horwarth.

That's because MAG, which grew out of an old tool and die business, now ships carbon composite fuselages, wind turbine blades and other products around the world. Just as manufacturing has changed, so has MAG's factory floor. They need fewer workers, but ones with more specialized skills.

MAG is not alone. Three million jobs have been lost in this recession, and many of the old line manufacturing jobs are gone forever. To succeed in the new manufacturing industries, people need knowledge of science, technology, engineering and math.

To cultivate and train this new generation of workers, MAG has turned to an old idea — apprenticeship.

Gateway Community and Technical College is one of the places where MAG and other Cincinnati-area companies are trying to provide workers with the right skills.

The college's Center for Advanced Manufacturing opened just this year as a partnership between Gateway and local manufacturers. Attending classes here is part of Snyder's job, and MAG covers his tuition.

Asked if this is the future of community college education, Gateway President Ed. Hughes said, "Absolutely — not only the future, it’s the present."

Hughes is firm in his belief in American manufacturing — and in Gateway. More than 80 percent of graduates find work in their chosen fields, he said.

"We like to say we're about the bottom line," Hughes said. "We can train the worker for your bottom line. You all win."

Joe Snyder's uncle Jim, a 38-year MAG veteran, also sees the future — in Joe and the other young apprentices.

"It’s amazing what they need to know now," Jim Snyder said. “It’s all computer-generated, high-tech equipment. We have a good group of kids coming through, and that’s the future of the company."

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

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