A sign of the times: Help wanted


By Bill Taylor

It seems to me that our lives are beset with signs of all kinds, but we hardly take the time to noticing them. For instance, we constantly encounter signs with traffic instructions such as, stop, yield, speed limits, mandatory turn, and a whole raft of others. Sure, some folks take these signs are either mere suggestions or don’t respond to them, but that’s why we have traffic enforcement officers. Anyway, it’s no big deal, most of us almost subconsciously note the message, comply, and go on about our business.

We can get lots of information from signs, such as, those identifying public buildings, services, and events, while other signs are intended to modify our behavior. Signs identify commercial enterprises, offering goods and services for sale, and religious facilities use signs to promote themselves to the public and extend welcome. Campaign signs spring up encouraging voters to elect a candidate or to support (or oppose) various issues on the ballot. Yep, signs are part of our lives, but mostly they don’t cause us to raise the proverbial eyebrow.

Ok, so what has me thinking about signs? Well, it’s that we’re now seeing a type of sign that has been absent for some time – the “Help Wanted” sign. I don’t know if you’ve noticed how many businesses are looking for employees, but notices such as “Join us! We offer excellent pay and benefits”, “Hiring in all positions”, and “Immediate employment” are all over the place. These signs kinda lead us to a different kind of “sign” – that is, an indicator or signal of what’s going on in the job market – why the apparent shortage of workers?

Well, one reason lies in the lack of “blue collar, skilled workers.” According to reports, one of the most acute shortfalls is in what used to be known as “the trades”, that is, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, and such. For many years, our country relied on a system where young men (and some young women) learned the trades through what was essentially an apprenticeship. They worked with older, more experienced workers in acquiring the knowledge and skills of the trade, but today, this process has apparently largely dissipated and thus the shortage. Guess you could call it a sign of the times.

Another reason lies in today’s society and its attitude toward lifestyles. I recently talked with a guy who is a superintendent of a manufacturing plant. He oversees the entire manufacturing process, ensuring the end product meet the quality, quantity and timely delivery specifications. He told me the company is planning to expand its operation, but is having difficulty in finding workers.

He explained the manufacturing process involves a number of complex operations, and each must be performed precisely. To ensure both the safety of the workers and the integrity of the product, the workplace must be drug free, and therein lies a problem. A number of potential employees seem to be of the opinion that their personal lives, namely using marijuana or other drugs, are no business of the employer. As a result, they fail the pre-employment drug test. Another sign of the times?

A warehouse manager told me he has difficulty in finding reliable workers, that is, those who regularly show up on time, ready to work, and who can be depended upon to do their assigned tasks properly, promptly and without constant supervision. According to reports, this problem of recruiting reliable workers appears to be widespread in other areas as well. Yet another sign of the times?

There has been an almost frantic effort to convince us that the only way to succeed today is to be educated in a STEM-based curriculum (I think that means Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), and everyone must have a college education. One candidate for our nation’s presidency has even proposed a free, that means taxpayer funded, education at public colleges. Another sign of the times?

While some professions do require STEM education and a college degree, the perception that everyone must attend an institution of higher learning flies in the face of reality. This one-size-fits-all educational mold isn’t suitable for everyone. Sure, many jobs require training, a lot of which is highly specialized, but what we really need are capable, dedicated workers who perform the myriad of jobs that keep our society going. That’s what employers are looking for.

Well, there you have it – a rather rambling recitation of my observations on a subject which has many “experts” – all of whom are busy reading the various “signs”. But you know what? I figure my take is about as good as any. At least that’s how it seems to me.


Bill Taylor, a Greene County Daily columnist and area resident, may be contacted at [email protected].

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