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 Response Page - Ajax and Daigle  Interview -      
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These comments are responses to the statements listed below,
which were generated in regard to the
Erick Ajax / E J Daigle Interview of

Wanted: Highly skilled workers for good manufacturing jobs


Erick Ajax, co-owner and vice president of EJ Ajax and Sons, and E.J. Daigle, dean of robotics and manufacturing at Dunwoody College of Technology, want people to know that there are many good job opportunities available in manufacturing that require very skilled workers. They lament the loss of shop classes in high schools, the over-emphasis on high-stakes testing and the thinking that everyone should attend a four-year college. Daigle recalls that a decade ago, Dunwoody almost closed its machine tool program due to low enrollment. Now the program is thriving and enrolls nearly 100 students. Ajax discusses his methods and those of other companies for ensuring that they have the "best-of-the-best" workers, even in this time of baby boomers retiring and a shortage of young, skilled workers. They describe the partnership between EJ Ajax and Dunwoody, through which the company awards scholarships and internships to the two best Dunwoody students halfway through their first year. Ajax calls on employers to be willing to "put skin in the game" and find a way to collaborate and leverage with other entities.

For the complete interview summary see:

Response Summary: Readers have been asked to rate, on a scale of (0) most disagreement, to (5) neutral, to (10) most agreement, the following points discussed by Ajax and Daigle. Average response ratings shown below are simply the mean of all readers’ zero-to-ten responses to the ideas proposed and should not be considered an accurate reflection of a scientifically structured poll.

1. Schools must invest, collaborate. (9.2 average response) To provide sufficient numbers of adequately skilled manufacturing workers, postsecondary schools must invest in the appropriate technology and faculty and actively partner with manufacturers to develop training programs.

2. Companies must invest, collaborate. (9.0 average response) At the same time, manufacturers must be willing to invest time and expertise to develop secondary and postsecondary training programs in partnership with educators, state agencies and nonprofit organizations.

3. Offer competitive wages. (7.9 average response) Manufacturers must be willing to pay higher wages to attract well-trained entry-level workers.

4. Trainees must show competence. (9.4 average response) To improve the employability of their graduates, training programs should assure that graduates leave with well-accepted credentials evidencing their competencies.

5. Provide a vocational option. (8.8 average response) While college graduates enjoy higher lifetime earning potential, the increasingly unmanageable level of debt incurred by college students suggests that high schools should provide comprehensive vocational training for many students rather than requiring all students to follow a college-bound track.

6. Prepare for jobs, not tests. (7.4 average response) High school curricula should emphasize preparation for jobs rather than preparation for high-stakes tests in math and reading.

Response Distribution:

Strongly disagree

Moderately disagree


Moderately agree

Strongly agree

Total Responses

1. Schools must invest, collaborate.







2. Companies must invest, collaborate.







3. Offer competitive wages.







4. Trainees must show competence.







5. Provide a vocational option.







6. Prepare for jobs, not tests.







Individual Responses:

Chris Brazelton (7.5) (10) (10) (10) (10) (10)

Mark Woitalla (10) (10) (10) (10) (10) (10)

Dave Broden (10) (10) (7.5) (10) (10) (7.5)

1. Schools must invest, collaborate. Investment in key resources are of course a key component of the response, however awareness and attention to the need and how the workplace is changing is perhaps much more critical or the attention and funding will not be available and the spending will look like excess rather than an important educational need. Industry/school district share must also be central to the solution.

2. Companies must invest, collaborate. The partnership of business and education must be a focus to achieve the objective. To achieve this there must be a renewal of government support and interest in the growth and maintenance of strong businesses in Minnesota. The sometimes atmosphere of anti-business, [whether] real or unreal, must be overcome and become a positive in all respects.

3. Offer competitive wages. Higher wages are certainly a key to the level of expertise. However the real issue is that the companies must structure wages for salary, productivity, competitiveness, etc. and the ability to evolve a profit/earnings so that they can continue to grow, expand, update, expand training, etc. I definitely support appropriately higher wages but with other considerations in the discussion. Too often the discussion is entry wages only and not total wage opportunity as the worker evolves in the job. The employer wants to have successful workers and pay is an incentive [as] is on-the-job opportunity. I am a believer that on-the-job opportunity is of greater value to the employer and the worker than just higher pay.

4. Trainees must show competence. The trend is growing rapidly in the recognition and direction of this approach. As it grows in application the skills will increase, business will gain, and jobs will have greater value.

5. Provide a vocational option. Education must seek a stronger balance of post secondary college and vo-tech. The debt issue applies in both but is obviously greater in the college student population. Educating for vo-tech today and the future must be a focus.

6. Prepare for jobs, not tests. Question/statement is worded poorly. The new workplace must have workers who can communicate and do significant math. This gets to one of the key issues of how education must evolve. To achieve the vo-tech, should some class content be dropped and replaced to make room for vo-tech? Is vo-tech an additional segment? Perhaps an extra hour or so per day has value and can be applied wisely. To trade off topics that ensure effective members of society is also a risk. Thus some thought about integration of vo-tech without cutting is worthy.

Don Anderson (7.5) (10) (5) (7.5) (10) (10)

Frank Long (10) (7.5) (2.5) (10) (2.5) (2.5)

1. Schools must invest, collaborate. As someone who has held both a Mechanical and Building Contractors license as well as several years installing groundwater remediation systems, I would urge both design and technical training to incorporate an intern or apprentice component to better understand the actual field practice and practicalities in the discipline or trade. An added value would be to provide valuable feedback to professors or instructors for course development. Speaking from experience, mechanical, electrical, structural and fluid engineers spending time in the field they design for would lead to more serviceable and efficient systems.

2. Companies must invest, collaborate. Manufacturing must get a return on their investment. An intern or training regimen could be part of a job placement program, such as they have at Dunwoody, where two of my boys have gone for HVAC and auto mechanic training and certification.

3. Offer competitive wages. Without a way to evaluate aptitude and productivity, training does not guarantee results. I have managed quite a few people with degrees and certifications in the field they studied or trained for [who] were unproductive or became disinterested with the actual application of that training. Spending time in that field might have saved everyone involved time, money and aggravation. Knowing the employee, their work ethic and the fact that they are receiving state-of-the-art training would convince me commit to start the hire at a higher wage upon completion of their course studies.

4. Trainees must show competence. An intern and job placement program would give both the employee and employer the opportunity to access the aptitude, productivity, and whether the prospective employee is a good "fit" for the occupation or profession. Credentials do not replace or trump workplace competence.

5. Provide a vocational option. At the high school level, students are losing ground on mastering the basics. Providing vocational options to young people who don't have enough life or work experience to have developed a knowledge of what they would have an interest in, or aptitude for, is a misallocation of time and resources. There should be less emphasis on urging young people on taking a direct route to college. This was learned the hard and expensive way by our family. By insisting our son go right to college, he began a path that wasn't right for him; when he figured out what he wanted to do, we all got value from his vocational training.

6. Prepare for jobs, not tests. High [schools] should make sure graduates have a mastery of basic math, reading and writing skills. These skills will enable graduates to begin the next step in their career path, be it continued education, a vocational training program or directly into the work force. Ensuring competency in these areas will serve these people well. When high school graduates can't make change or spell, the idea that high schools should focus on additional or supplementary programs in the core curriculum is a terrible idea. Students who are ahead of the curve can begin college courses or vocational training at the appropriate facilities.

Bruce A. Lundeen (10) (7.5) (7.5) (10) (10) (10)

5. Provide a vocational option. That high schools have dropped vocational training is a tragedy.

6. Prepare for jobs, not tests. High schools must reinstitute vocational training programs.

Dennis L. Johnson (10) (7.5) (7.5) (10) (10) (7.5)

6. Prepare for jobs, not tests. All of the above must and will be done by the private sector as needs become more severe. We do not need any new public program to accomplish these goals.

Suzie Nakasian (10) (10) (7.5) (10) (5) (5)

1. Schools must invest, collaborate. Mathew Crawford's Shop as Soulcraft is a beautiful essay on what post secondary schools have forfeited by selling off (and selling short) vocational training departments, faculty, facilities and futures. In Northfield, Minnesota, we are beginning a discussion of work force development that engages all of the educational partners in our community from cradle [to] career, in a conversation with our local businesses (particularly our manufacturers). Guided by data provided by MINNESOTASCU we are talking together about how to revive our local V-wing (vocational prep) to outfit it for the job skills that are needed today. We have also developed a unique savings tool to help the most income challenged youth to develop the assets they need for college through a new savings instrument called the Youth IDA.

2. Companies must invest, collaborate. They should start by partnering with local school districts to train up a competent American labor force for our future. Germany has great models for us in this regard. We have a lot to learn. In our town, we are striving to learn quickly. Our kids need jobs, and our employers need skilled employees.

3. Offer competitive wages. "Higher" than what? Competitive wages, yes, and good humane benefits. And if you are serious about capturing the talent of women, they need to offer maternity leave or flex hours. So there's a lot more than wages in the equation. To attract youth to electives in the high school, the kids need to see that starting manufacturing jobs will provide a path to advancement and the opportunity for an increased wage levels—a future, not just a wage. Our local cereal company, Malt O Meal (MOM), does an excellent job of training and keeping its workers. They also happen to offer excellent wages to entry-level workers. But people would work for them even if pay were lower because the company benefits are so good. So, more than wages.

4. Trainees must show competence. If by "well accepted credentials" you mean industry ready work habits and skills. It may serve the country to come up with a whole new array of "credentials" to meet contemporary needs, alternatives to the 4-year degrees. Those credentials won’t be well accepted for a while. What "well accepted" degree is right for an entry level position relating to nanotechnology? We need new credentials to keep stride with our changing technologies. In the end I think what improves employability is the reputation of the school in producing students who have the right work habits, character and specific skills until those new credentials become recognized and "well accepted." (And character is key - especially for the small and mid-level companies, which currently are the most vibrant and growing sector of our economy, but as important for large widget makers.) Quality of corporation counts for a lot. In Northfield, we do a good job of fostering the development of kids that people will want to live and work with. This also requires an investment from the schools, and it pays off.

5. Provide a vocational option. Why present this in the way that perpetuates a false dichotomy between 4-year college and vocational training? College-bound students should optimally learn some degree of manual skills or labor to expand their capacity for problem solving and their personal sense of competency/mastery. Manual laborers need the liberal arts to hone the edges of their ingenuity and problem solving. The liberal arts ought to include a crafts dimension and the trades ought not short change critical reasoning. And vocational discernment and self-inquiry should start in the 4th grade, be focused on in middle school and turned out in high school and college. Both tracks need to reduce costs. Both tracks need to train the parents to stay out of the way of the train.

6. Prepare for jobs, not tests. Again the false dichotomy. High School (and middle school) curricula should include attention to vocational discernment in the classical sense, and building from the particularity of the student, grow a course of study and set of competencies. That direction can include high stakes math and reading—if it suits the particular student, why not? But as one of many options. It had better include basic reading and writing competency for all students—the capacity for self-expression, which is neglected in your question. Center on vocational direction in the classical sense and get out of the way. This asks more of our teachers and programs; it’s a challenge to underfunded educational programs and the reduction of standardization. But it moves in the direction of restoring to the country a diversified labor force. As I mentioned above, we are just beginning a very positive conversation among leaders in Northfield, Minnesota to address the skills shortage you identify above. As the facilitator of that local conversation, I'd welcome the chance to stay in conversation with, and learn from, the Dunwoody/Ajax partnership.

Chuck Lutz (9) (9) (10) (10) (9) (8)

Wayne Jennings (10) (8) (9) (10) (10) (10)

Good interview of real world importance. We’ve overemphasized college as the only aspiration for youth. It demeans other important careers and skews the value of other workers. Schools concentrate on academic areas far too much and that’s been a problem in education for many decades. Sadly, it’s even worse today. Will we ever learn?

Marianne Curry (na) (na) (na) (na) (na) (na)

I believe it is time to consider the downsides of creating parallel competing schools, which siphon off the parents most likely to champion a quality education for their children. When that constituency is not present in the public schools, we are left with a declining public enrollment, declining standards, and reductions in the arts and vocational training. Charter schools are based on the presumption that competition is good. However, education is a public imperative that cannot be squeezed into the economic model of competition in my opinion.

Carolyn Ring (10) (10) (8) (8) (9) (9)

John Nowicki (7) (7) (9) (8) (8) (5)

The state should also make it more conducive for new veterans and military retiree to migrate to Minnesota.

R. J. Brown (10) (10) (7) (10) (10) (5)

Tom Spitznagle (8) (8) (6) (9) (7) (8)

Most everything that these two gentlemen have said in this interview is right on target. The critical importance of wealth creation in any economy, as they allude to in their remarks, seems to be lost on most citizens and too many politicians.

Arvonne Fraser (6) (9) (10) (8) (9) (5)

Education should be for citizenship as well as employment. Life is not just about work. And certainly our politics suffer from lack of civics education.

Lyall Schwarzkopf (9) (8) (8) (8) (10) (6)

Tom Swain (10) (10) (5) (10) (8) (5)

Bert LeMunyon (10) (10) (10) (10) (10) (10)

6. Prepare for jobs, not tests. These men are to be commended for what they are doing, instead of relying on government to do it all.

RC Angevine (10) (10) (10) (10) (10) (7.5)

6. Prepare for jobs, not tests. Both areas are important for a well-rounded citizen.


The Civic Caucus   is a non-partisan, tax-exempt educational organization.   The Core participants include persons of varying political persuasions,
reflecting years of leadership in politics and business. Click here  to see a short personal background of each.

   David Broden,  Janis Clay,  Bill Frenzel,  Paul Gilje,   Jan Hively,  Dan Loritz (Chair),  Marina Lyon,  Joe Mansky, 
Tim McDonald,  John Mooty,  Jim Olson,  Wayne Popham  and Bob White

The Civic Caucus, 01-01-2008
2104 Girard Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55405.
Dan Loritz, chair, 612-791-1919   ~   Paul A. Gilje, coordinator, 952-890-5220.

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