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Jobs high-tech, workers not

Herbie Mays is 3M proud, and it shows — in the 3M shirt he wears; in the 3M ring he earned after three decades at the company's plant in suburban Cincinnati; in the way he shows off a card from a 3M supervisor, praising Mays as "a GREAT employee."

But it's all nostalgia. Mays' last day at 3M was in March. Bent on cutting costs and refocusing its portfolio, the company decided to close the plant that made bandages, knee braces and other health care supplies and move work to its plant in Mexico.

At 62, Mays is unemployed and wants to work, though on the face of it he has plenty of opportunities. Barely 10 miles from his ranch-style brick home in this blue-collar city, GE Aviation has been expanding — and hiring.

In the state-of-the-art laboratory in a World War II-era building the size of 27 football fields, workers use breakthrough technology to build jet engines that run on less fuel at higher temperatures. Bright flashes flare out as GE workers run tests with a robotic arm that can withstand 2,000 degrees (1,090 Celsius).

The open jobs there are among 30,000 manufacturing positions available across Ohio. But Mays, like many of Ohio's unemployed, doesn't have the needed skills.

"If you don't keep up with the times," he said, "you're out of luck."

This is the paradox of American manufacturing jobs in 2017. Donald Trump won the presidency in great measure because he pledged to stop American jobs and manufacturing from going overseas. His message helped him capture Ohio and other Rust Belt states with the support of Mays and other blue-collar voters.

It's true that many jobs have gone overseas, to places where workers are willing to toil for less money. Yet at the same time, American manufacturers have actually added nearly a million jobs in the past seven years. And federal statistics show nearly 390,000 such jobs open.

The problem? Many of these are not the same jobs that for decades sustained the working class. More and more factory jobs now demand education, technical know-how or specialized skills. And many of the workers set adrift from low-tech factories lack such qualifications. Meanwhile, the dearth of qualified applicants has forced some manufacturers to pay more to fill those jobs.

Training opportunities are limited, particularly for older workers.

"The United States trails virtually all its industrial competitors in public and private spending on training," said Scott Paul, president of the Alliance of American Manufacturing, adding that corporate spending on training has declined over the past two decades.

And though industry experts advocate more funding for retraining, the track record for such programs has been mixed. Not enough participate. Returning to school for up to two years can mean accepting much-reduced income during that time, sometimes an impossible step for older workers with families or nearing retirement.



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