Illiterate U.S. Workers Drive Jobs Overseas

Published April 1, 1998

Even after hiring some 12,100 workers to crank up output of aircraft on its assembly lines last year, the Boeing Company still found itself experiencing production delays that will cost an estimated $2.6 billion. The problem? “A lack of experienced help in the work force,” Boeing senior vice president James Dagnon told Forbes writers Kelly Barron and Ann Marsh in February.

Although Boeing had already rejected a third of its applicants because of poor employment histories or limited reading and math skills, the aerospace firm found that 8,000 of its new assembly line workers needed additional schooling to function effectively.

Barron and Marsh note that wireless telephone manufacturer Qualcomm Inc. in San Diego, California, put 500 of its new employees through remedial classes last year. According to Training magazine, 20 percent of the companies it recently surveyed taught their new hires reading, writing, arithmetic, or English–even though two-thirds of them already sported high school diplomas. The skills shortage “shines a harsh light on the U.S. educational system,” say Barron and Marsh. In fact, they argue, it isn’t just cheap labor that’s attracting companies to India, Ireland, or the Philippines–it’s their “educated, trainable workers.”