The media keeps telling us that skilled workers are hard to find so it must be true. In this article, “Can’t find skilled workers? Try this American strategy from World War II” operations strategist Rebecca Morgan suggest that corporations implement a Rosie the Riveter Strategy for finding workers:
Manufacturers fret about a skills shortage and the loss of powerful knowledge as baby boomers retire. Instead of fretting, I suggest looking back to the beginning of World War II as an easily available and proven response to both concerns.
At the beginning of WWII, millions of American men left jobs in manufacturing to fight the war. Those departures happened as the need for manufacturing to build war materials was skyrocketing.
American industry did a great job of bringing women in from homemaker duties and developing “Rosie the Riveter,” a productive manufacturing worker. How?
CONTINUE READING –>
While I love the idea of getting more women working in manufacturing jobs (or any jobs) Morgan fails to recognize some of the key components of that strategy that are not available to American Industry today.
First, the Office of War Information (OWI) which promoted the war effort from 1942 to 1945 ran an unrelenting well-coordinated PR campaign to disseminate information about the war consistently. The OWI produced radio programs and films, distributed magazine publishing guides with story ideas and top quality photos, and printed up those recruitment posters we all love.
Even prior to the US entry into World War II the National Youth Administration, a Works Progress Administration (WPA) program, fostered employment for young men and women and brought a lot of new workers to the trades. While production levels had not yet ramped up for the war effort, there was increasing need for skilled workers just prior to WWII because of WPA projects like the Merchant Marine Act of 1936 which provided government funding for shipyards and for shipbuilding contracts to improve our maritime capabilities. And American Industry was producing war related products (including ships) for the British.
Once war was declared, many factories converted to provide wartime products. For example, Ford stopped manufacturing automobiles and began manufacturing armored vehicles for the military. In fact, for a couple of years new cars were banned by the War Production Board, the government agency tasked with managing wartime production of goods. Other factory conversions included a sparkplug factory that switched to producing machine guns, a stove manufacturer that began making lifeboats, a merry-go-round factory made gun mounts; a toy company made compasses; a corset manufacturer produced grenade belts; and a pinball machine plant began to make armor-piercing shells.****
The government also allocated funds for childcare centers between 1943 and 1946 through the Lanham Act, figuring if women were going to work outside the home they may need help with the important job of raising children (the children are our future, right?).
From a Congressional Research Report, Child Care: The Federal Role During World War II: “During World War II, the federal government supported a nationwide program of child care centers, intended to boost war production by freeing mothers to work. Labor force participation of women grew significantly during the war, and children of working mothers were eligible for the child care service. The centers had a peak enrollment near 130,000 children in 1944.”
Another component of the World War II era “Rosie the Riveter” campaign was less strategy and more the “luck” of history itself and the state of the economy. Many of the women taking on these jobs came out of the Depression desperate for jobs, they came from the Dustbowl and from failed farms in the Midwest with a need to provide for themselves and their families. These jobs were attractive because they paid well.
Rose Barquist, for example, travelled to California in June of 1941 in search of a better life. “My future in Iowa would have been to go to work in someone’s house for three dollars a week maybe, and be seduced by somebody and be a farmer’s wife, the rest of my life, if I was lucky,” she said. ** At the Kaiser Shipyards she’d earn $1 per hour, $1.20 if she worked graveyard shift. (doesn’t sound like much by today’s standards, but compared to $3 per week, Rose would be flush with cash).
And there was also patriotism brought on by the war. It was time when Americans were supportive of the war and willing to sacrifice in ways that just don’t happen in today’s war.
Bottom line: the idea of a Rosie the Riveter strategy is cute, but until the U.S. government decides that it wants to support THIS country, OUR workers, OUR industries, it’ll never happen.
* * * *
**Rose Barquist, “Rosie the Riveter World War II American Home Front Oral History Project” conducted by Samuel J. Redman in 2011, Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, 2012.
****Source: Boundless. “Economic Conversion and Business in WWII.” Boundless U.S. History. Boundless, 10 Jun. 2015. Retrieved 10 Jun. 2015 from https://www.boundless.com/u-s-history/textbooks/boundless-u-s-history-textbook/from-isolation-to-world-war-ii-1930-1943-26/mobilization-in-the-u-s-205/economic-conversion-and-business-in-wwii-1121-8785/
Learn more here:
“Here’s What Happened The One Time When The U.S. Had Universal Childcare”
Automobile Factories Switched to War Production As America Entered World War II