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Longer factory workhours, not enough work for veterans

By , - Last modified: March 15, 2013 at 9:28 AM
Jim T. Ryan
Jim T. Ryan

We continue to see some signs that optimism for 2013 could be justified.

For example, you have this story here from Bloomberg: "GIs Fighting Nazis Last Time Factory Workers Toiled Longer."

Maybe that headline doesn't inspire a lot of confidence on face value. Sounds a bit like we're going backward, right? After all, our technological base is far more advanced than in the 1940s. All those factory workers today have a telephone that fits in their pocket capable of going to France and back with a few taps of the finger on the Internet. In the 1940s, GIs got to France on battleships and planes, and there were still many homes in America that didn't have telephones.

Technological advancement was supposed to make the workload easier. It has to some extent.

When you dig into the story, you find that the average production workhours per week in February were 41.9, one of the highest since 1944. The high that year: 45.6 hours per week. Either way, increasing averages mean many more people are working a far greater number of overtime hours.

That reminds me of York Haven Fabricators Inc. President Michael Shefet, who over the years has told me on a couple of occasions that the company is proud of overtime hours. Shefet would rather pay his people overtime in a slow growth environment than tell employees there isn't enough work for them to have a job.

The upside of increased work hours is that overtime pay gets expensive. Eventually, you need more people to meet the expectations of customers. You're seeing some of that in February's job stats: 236,000 jobs added and unemployment rate down to 7.7 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The number of unemployed fell by 300,000.

Of course, the caveat is that manufacturing employment hasn't changed much nationally in the past three months even if it has added about 100,000 jobs since February 2012.

But other indices continue to track manufacturing improvement. The March 1 Report on Business from the Institute of Supply Management shows a six-month upward production trend and a 41-month upward employment trend in manufacturing.

Back in December, that was the place that Shefet was starting to get to as well. Expand the factory, hire some more people and roll the dice on what is shaping up to be good years to come, he said.

That brings me back around to a recent Comcast Corp. announcement that it was doubling the number of veterans it will hire. Good for them and for all of today's GIs returning from the fight.

But connecting veterans with jobs and getting them the right skills will continue to be issues. And that's born out in recent statistics about veteran employment: It's not getting better.

Gulf War-Era II veterans, those active since 2001, have seen their unemployment rate jump to 9.4 percent in February from 7.6 percent last year, according to BLS. Unemployment for men closely matches those numbers since they make up most of the nearly 2.7 million veterans in this group. But unemployment for women among GWEII vets has gone to 11.4 percent last month from 7.4 percent a year ago.

All totaled, there were 203,000 unemployed veterans in February.

Large companies could double their veterans employment again and it still wouldn't put a sizable dent in these figures.

It might be time again for companies, large and small, to take more risks and make more workforce investments if such numbers are to improve. How each company works that into its plans is a far greater task than simply talking about it.

Jim T. Ryan covers Cumberland County, manufacturing, transportation and workforce issues. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at You can also follow him on Twitter, @JimTRyanCPBJ.

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