Good News Stifles Workers’ Need for New Training

January 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Editor’s Note: Norm Heikens, focus editor for the Indianapolis Business Journal, filed this blog following the announcement this week that Think North America Inc. will produce its electric cars in a factory that formerly housed an RV supply firm in Elkhart, Ind.

The Elkhart area in northern Indiana is certainly ready for some good news. The city attracted visits from presidential candidate Barack Obama after becoming a poster child for job losses, and in 2009 continued to endure a brutal string of layoffs and factory closings in its core recreational vehicle and manufactured housing industries.

Good news indeed is trickling in. Yesterday, Think North America announced it would build its electric smart car in Elkhart and eventually create 400 jobs. Unemployment, which peaked at 18.9% in March, is down four points.

Here’s a difficult question, though: Is Elkhart getting too much good news too quickly?

No one wants unemployment, and no one boos when a company says it wants to expand. Prosperity is a good thing. But will workers in the Elkhart area interpret the announcements as evidence they have enough education and lose motivation to go back to school?

The Elkhart area desperately needs better-trained workers. The metro area ranks 10th among 16 in the state in the percentage of residents age 25 or older with a vocational-technical degree. This in a state where education levels are among the lowest in the country.

One might argue that if companies like Think are voting on Elkhart, then the workers must be good enough. Maybe so.

In the long run, though, as competing states and nations — and manufacturing itself — become more sophisticated, would the region have been better off had the announcements been delayed? Would more people have upgraded their training, and would more children still in school have aspired to a college education?

Just asking. What are your thoughts?

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