The first wave of GE layoffs just hit Erie County with plenty more to come. Reabsorbing 1500 or more skilled workers into similar positions in this area will be a tall order and, though GE gets a lot of the media coverage, there have been, and will continue to be, layoffs from other companies throughout the county. Politicians offer support, a nice gesture, but pursuing Department of Labor funds for retraining programs is a classic government response, and there will be no shortage of schools ready to take the money. The question is, do those programs do any good and what jobs are they retraining for? Maybe it’s time to try some other options.
Provide the tools and space, just add motivation
Gym memberships get you access to equipment for building bodies, but suppose, instead, you had a shop, equipped with an array of expensive machine tools, CNC mills, industrial tools of all sorts, high tech electronic fabrication and repair tools, 3D printers, laser cutters, computers running the latest CAD software, and all accessible, on a membership basis, just like a gym. Do you think a person with the skills to use some of these tools would see the potential? Do you think a few guys with the skills might see the possibility of joining together to form their own startup company? Crazy idea, right?
TechShop is already doing this
Crazy or not, TechShop is already doing it in several cities around the US. It started, unsurprisingly, in California, but has since spread to other cities. There’s one in Detroit created in collaboration with Ford. When it started, some Ford engineers would go there in their off time and work on their own ideas, some of those side projects were eventually incorporated into production cars, this is a place where real things get built.
There are TechShops in places like California, Arizona, Texas, Virginia and there’s one not far away, in Pittsburgh. These are commercial operations, memberships are $150 per month and you can get annual and family memberships, too. Millions of dollars in equipment accessible to each member. Investors with $25 thousand can get a lifetime membership.
Now, suppose a recently unemployed machinist or welder, maybe several, started using their skills to build something on a combination of these tools they could never afford, instead of using their skills at a job, maybe they start something new. Easy? Of course not, nothing worthwhile is, but some of these laid off workers don’t need retraining, they already have the skills, they just need the tools and an opportunity.
Like I said, it’s a business, not a government program. Investors start it, members pay to use it, some investors can contribute larger sums to help keep the funding going and get lifetime memberships for themselves.
Suppose instead of using retraining funds for laid off employees to send them to school, those funds went toward an annual membership. If they want to continue on their own after the first year, they pay. Anyone in the community can join, too, so it’s not some special limited resource. TechShop has classes, too, if you don’t know how to run some of the machines.
Let’s see, someone with great CAD skills works out the design for an idea, someone else machines it, then they team up on the project and crowdfund it on KickStarter. Maybe a new business begins to take shape, right there. So crazy it might work.
GE Garages already has a sort of travelling shop like this and TechShop is a partner. I wonder if some partnership could be set up to get a first class TechShop up and running in Erie.
Erie County needs free market solutions
Politicians and government agencies think in terms of government answers for everything, like creating fantasy “green” jobs and other schemes that only make sense to bureaucrats and politicians. Erie County residents have lots of ideas of their own the government would never think of. If residents have an opportunity to create something new, maybe a business, everything else falls into place. The government is not the source of good ideas or jobs. Jobs are the result of growing successful businesses.
A TechShop could do wonders, why we don’t already have one here with so many tool oriented, technical, hands on people in the area is something I don’t understand. Why not get moving and start one now? There’s never been a better time. Let’s do this!