More Thoughts on the Invisible Hand and Skilled Worker Shortage

January 31, 2013

Guest Post by Dave Bradford, President, William Bradford Associates, Cleveland Ohio.

David Bradford  for BlogDave publishes a series of PROTALK roundtable discussions to improve professional sales skills of industrial distributors, including steel service centers.

We hit a nerve with Dave with our post on Why Isn’t The Invisible Hand Training Enough Skilled Workers?  As  a business student at the University of Chicago, Dave heard first hand from Nobel prize winners George Stigler and Milton Friedman on the subject.

“Friedman suggested that the phrase ‘the invisible hand’ refers to ‘the possibility of cooperation without coercion,'” according to Dave.

Here is Dave Bradford’s take on why ‘the invisible hand’ hasn’t provided us the skilled workers we need.

1) The timing is not right. Without an economic imperative to improve skills and having it seen as a necessity to fulfill the mission of the company, training will not be a priority. Once training becomes an imperative to the mission in management’s eyes,  steps needed will be taken to supply skilledworkers. 

Speaking of Precision (SOP):  It is up to us, not ‘invisible hands’ and we’ll do it as we see the need.)

2) We lack a priority on skilled training.  Making skilled worker training a priority is similar to heat treating in steel, according to Dave.  Just as heat treating rearranges the atoms in a structure to achieve a desired result, so too should our managements have a process  for rearranging the priorities in our companies. Management can achieve a more profitable outcome by investing in this training and including it in long term planning by applying ‘heat’ to the company’s priorities.

SOP: Why did a former boss talk about “holding people’s feet to the fire“… the invisible hand’s job being to hold those feet right there.

3) We require a sharper focus on critical skills within workers, an asset as yet untapped by management.  Stephen Covey’s inside-out approach recognizes that potential for skills exists within capable people, but doesn’t contribute to the bottom line until management unleashes it.  ‘Sharpening the saw’ is Covey’s phrase for  ongoing renewal. This idea applies to our workers,  by providing them with refresher and advanced skill training to perform at their optimum level. Peter Drucker says essentially the same thing: Optimize positive forces in a company to make negative factors irrelevant.  

SOP: ‘The invisible hand’ is management’s awareness of its resources to develop and improve critical skills in workers. This awareness either exists or it doesn’t. Dave Bradford sees the phrase  as ambiguous, which serves to kindle  economic, political and academic discussions. He implies that the invisible hand may simply be an alias for “us.”

Why don’t we make skills training a priority, rearrange our carbon atoms, and ‘sharpen our saw’ by focusing on untapped human resources? Maybe the invisible hand is, in fact, the hand that we aren’t seeing at the end of our own arm. Are we doing enough to benefit society by pursuing our own interest?

Have we done enough to pursue our own interest, so that society too can benefit?

Have we done enough to pursue our own interest, so that society too can benefit?

Invisible Hand Graphic courtesy Micro Loan  Bank Kiva

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Why Isn’t The Invisible Hand Training Enough Skilled Workers?

October 9, 2012

The Invisible Hand Is NOT Training Enough Skilled Machinists.

(And by the way, neither are we.)

Estimates of as many as 600,000 unfilled skilled manufacturing jobs despite  years of unemployment over 8% just don’t compute. As a free market guy, I continue to be frustrated waiting for Adam Smith’s Invisble Hand to bring the trained workers our industry needs.

Have we done enough to pursue our own interest, so that society too can benefit?

Why isn’t the Invisible Hand working?

  • Has it been handcuffed by school bureaucrats who insist that college is for everyone? 
  • And parents who fail to critically think about the ROI and Debt obligations that a college degree means today?
  • Has the invisible hand been amputated by school board  and advisory council members who think that the trades is just a necessary evil for someone else’s troublemaker of a kid?
  • Do we have a need for public private partnerships like Right Skills Now to elevate the need for skilled tradesmen and to show advanced manufacturing as a viable, well paying career? Why is the US only in the 17th in Science or 25th in Math achievement worldwide?
  • Or have we as shop owners and machinists been missing  in guiding that invisible hand by concentrating on everything else except skilled workforce development?

What are you doing to develop the skilled workforce that you need?

Or are you waiting, like most shop owners over the last decade or so have waited, for someone else to train your crew?

Invisible Hand Graphic courtesy Micro Loan  Bank Kiva

A Few Good Workers originally published in Modern Applications News May 1999.