The publication EfficientGov indicates the following: “The opioid crisis is creating a workforce epidemic leading to labor shortage and workplace safety and performance challenges.”

Opioid-related deaths have reached an all-time high in the United States. More than 47,000 people died in 2014, and the numbers are rising. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this month released prescribing guidelines to help primary care physicians safely treat chronic pain while reducing opioid dependency and abuse. Given that the guidelines are not binding, how will the CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services make sure they make a difference? What can payers and providers do to encourage a countrywide culture shift?

The opioid epidemic is also having widespread effects on many industries relative to labor shortages, workplace safety and worker performance.  Managers and owners are trying to figure out methods to deal with drug-addicted workers and job applicants.  HR managers cite the opioid crisis as one of their biggest challenges. Applicants are unwilling or unable to pass drug tests, employees are increasingly showing signs of addiction on the job and there are workers with opioid prescriptions having significant performance problems.

Let’s take a very quick look at only three employers and what they say about the crisis.

  • Clyde McClellan used to require a drug test before people could work at his Ohio pottery company, which produces 2,500 hand-cast coffee mugs a day for Starbucks and others. Now, he skips the tests and finds it more efficient to flat-out ask applicants: “What are you on?”
  • At Homer Laughlin China, a company that makes a colorful line of dishware known as Fiesta and employs 850 at a sprawling complex in Newell, W.V., up to half of applicants either fail or refuse to take mandatory pre-employment drug screens, said company president Liz McIlvain. “The drugs are so cheap and they’re so easily accessible,” McIlvain, a fourth-generation owner of the company, said. “We have a horrible problem here.”
  • “That is really the battlefield for us right now,” said Markus Dietrich,global manager of employee assistance and work-life services at chemical giant DuPont, which employs 46,000 worldwide.

As you might suspect, the epidemic is having a devastating effect on companies — large and small — and their ability to stay competitive. Managers and owners across the country are at a loss in how to deal with addicted workers and potential workers, calling the issue one of the biggest problems they face. Applicants are increasingly unwilling or unable to pass drug tests; then there are those who pass only to show signs of addiction once employed. Even more confounding: how to respond to employees who have a legitimate prescription for opioids but whose performance slips.  There are those individuals who have a need for pain-killers and to deny them would be difficult, but how do you deal with this if you are a manager and fear issues and potential law suites when there is over use?

The issue is amplifying labor shortages in industries like trucking, which has had difficulty for the last six (6) years finding qualified workers and drivers.  It is also pushing employers to broaden their job searches, recruiting people from greater distances when roles can’t be filled with local workers. At stake is not only safety and productivity within companies — but the need for humans altogether, with some manufacturers claiming opioids force them to automate work faster.

One corporate manager said: “You’re going to see manufacturing jobs slowly going away for, if nothing else, that reason alone.   “It’s getting worse, not better.”

Economists have noticed also. In Congressional testimony earlier this month, Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen related opioid use to a decline in the labor participation rate. The past three Fed surveys on the economy, known as the Beige Book, explicitly mentioned employers’ struggles in finding applicants to pass drug tests as a barrier to hiring. The surveys, snapshots of economic conditions in the Fed’s twelve (12) districts, don’t mention the type of drugs used.   A Congressional hearing in June of this year focused on opioids and their economic consequences, Ohio attorney general Mike DeWine estimated that forty (40) percent of applicants in the state either failed or refused a drug test. This prevents people from operating machinery, driving a truck or getting a job managing a McDonald’s, he said.

OK, what should a manufacturer do to lessen or hopefully eliminate the problem?  There have been put forth several suggestions, as follows:

Policy Option 1: Medical Education– Opioid education is crucial at all levels, from medical school and residency, through continuing education; and must involve primary care, specialists, mental health providers, pharmacies, emergency departments, clinics and patients. The push to increase opioid education must come from medical schools, academic medical centers, accrediting organizations and possibly state legislatures.

Policy Option 2: Continuing Medical Education– Emphasize the importance of continuing medical education (CME) for practicing physicians. CME can be strengthened by incorporating the new CDC guidelines, and physicians should learn when and how to safely prescribe these drugs and how to handle patients with drug-seeking behavior.

Policy Option 3: Public Education– Emphasize the need to address patient demand, not just physician supply, for opioids. It compared the necessary education to the campaign to reduce demand for antibiotics. The public needs to learn about the harms as well as the benefits of these powerful painkillers, and patients must understand that their pain can be treated with less-dangerous medications, or nonpharmacological interventions like physical therapy or acupuncture. Such education could be spearheaded by various physician associations and advocacy groups, with support from government agencies and officials at HHS and elsewhere.

Policy Option 4: Removing Perverse Incentives and Payment Barriers– Prescribing decisions are influenced by patient satisfaction surveys and insurance reimbursement practices, participants said. Patient satisfaction surveys are perceived — not necessarily accurately — as making it harder for physicians to say “no” to patients who are seeking opioids. Long-standing insurance practices, such as allowing only one pain prescription to be filled a month, are also encouraging doctors to prescribe more pills than a patient is likely to need — adding to the risk of overuse, as well as chance of theft, sale or other diversion of leftover drugs.

Policy Option 5: Solutions through Technology– Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMP) and Electronic Health Records (EHR) could be important tools in preventing opioid addiction, but several barriers stand in the way. The PDMP data are incomplete; for instance, a physician in Washington, D.C., can’t see whether a patient is also obtaining drugs in Maryland or Virginia. The records are not user friendly; and they need to be integrated into EHRs so doctors can access them both — without additional costs piled on by the vendors. It could be helpful if certain guidelines, like defaults for dosing and prescribing, were baked into the electronic records.

Policy Option 6: Access to addiction treatment and reducing stigma—There is a need to change how the country thinks about — and talks about — addiction and mental illness. Substance abuse treatment suffers when people with addiction are treated as criminals or deviants. Instead, substance abuse disorder should be treated as an illness, participants recommended. High deductibles in health plans, including Obamacare exchange plans, create another barrier to substance abuse treatment.

CONCLUSIONS:  I don’t really know how we got here but we are a country with a very very “deep bench”.  We know how to do things, so let’s put all of our resources together to solve this very troublesome problem.

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PAYCHECK 2016

August 28, 2016


The following post is taken from information furnished by Mr. Rob Spiegel of Design News Daily.

We all are interested in how we stack up pay-wise relative to our peers.  Most companies have policies prohibiting discussions about individual pay because every paycheck is somewhat different due to deductible amounts.   The number of dependents, health care options, saving options all play a role in representations of the bottom line—take-home pay.  That’s the reason it is very important to have a representative baseline for average working salaries for professional disciplines.  That is what this post is about.  Just how much should an engineering graduate expect upon graduation in the year 2016?  Let’s take a very quick look.

The average salaries for engineering grads entering the job market range from $62,000 to $64,000 — except for one notable standout. According to the 2016 Salary Survey from The National Association of Colleges and Employers, petroleum engineering majors are expected to enter their field making around $98,000/year. Clearly, petroleum engineering majors are projected to earn the top salaries among engineering graduates this year.

Petroleum Engineers

Actually, I can understand this high salary for Petroleum engineers.  Petroleum is a non-renewable resource with diminishing availability.  Apparently, the “easy” deposits have been discovered—the tough ones, not so much.  The locations for undiscovered petroleum deposits represent some of the most difficult conditions on Earth.  They deserve the pay they get.

Chemical Engineering

Dupont at one time had the slogan, “Better living through chemistry.”  That fact remains true to this day.  Chemical engineers provide value-added products from medical to material.  From the drugs we take to the materials we use, chemistry plays a vital role in kicking the can down the road.

Electrical Engineering

When I was a graduate, back in the dark ages, electrical engineers garnered the highest paying salaries.   Transistors, relays, optical devices were new and gaining acceptance in diverse markets.  Electrical engineers were on the cutting edge of this revolution.  I still remember changing tubes in radios and even TV sets when their useful life was over.  Transistor technology was absolutely earth-shattering and EEs were riding the crest of that technology wave.

Computer Engineering

Computer and software engineering are here to stay because computers have changed our lives in a remarkably dramatic fashion.  We will NEVER go back to performing even the least tedious task with pencil and paper.  We often talk about disruptive technology—game changers.  Computer science is just that

Mechanical Engineering

I am a mechanical engineer and have enjoyed the benefits of ME technology since graduation fifty years ago.  Now, we see a great combination of mechanical and electrical with the advent of mechatronics.  This is a very specialized field providing the best of both worlds.

Software Engineering

Materials Engineering

Material engineering is a fascinating field for a rising freshman and should be considered as a future path.  Composite materials and additive manufacturing have broadened this field in a remarkable fashion.  If I had to do it over again, I would certainly consider materials engineering.

Systems Engineering

Systems engineering involves putting it all together.  A critical task considering “big data”, the cloud, internet exchanges, broadband developments, etc.  Someone has to make sense of it all and that’s the job of the systems engineer.

Hope you enjoyed this one. I look forward to your comments.

THE PRIVATE SECTOR

June 14, 2012


You will notice my blogs, just about always, deal with education and technology.  I am very comfortable with these subjects and certainly enjoy writing about R&D and technological developments affecting our daily lives.   I actually know a little about these having been there, done that, got the “T” shirt.  I stay away from “hot button” topics such as abortion, contraception, gay marriage, etc. because I feel these subject are extremely personal and, quite frankly, why would you want my opinion?   Politically, I’m a registered Independent.  I vote for the person and not the party.  Definitely conservative when it comes to all matters financial.  I do not have a “base”.  My hero, Sir Winston said: “If you aren’t a liberal by the time you’re 20 you don’t have a heart.  If you aren’t a conservative by the time you’re 40, you don’t have a head”.  (His words not mine.)   There is a great deal of truth to that statement.

I’m going to “break ranks” right now and voice an opinion relative to a statement made the other day by President Obama.

“The private sector is doing just fine”

Again, his words—not mine.  Ladies and gentlemen the private sector is NOT fine, not fine at all.  I do consulting work for a company that has two manufacturing locations in the same southern city and travel between them two or three times per day; checking on robotic processes for a critical assembly.   I have been amazed over the last three months to see men and women canvassing the roadways for discarded cans, setting up “flea market” locations in their yards and just walking the streets going door to door seeking one day odd jobs.  Two days ago I was headed to “plant two” and noticed my gas tank was nearing empty.  I stopped for fuel and while filling up, a gentleman came up to the island and started looking through the trash cans.  Now this guy did not look to be homeless.  He was dressed in a fairly nice fashion; was wearing a knit pullover Polo shirt; had on a pair of kaki pants AND shoes.   I ask him if he was OK.  “Just looking for scrap metal I can sell to get a little money.  I was laid off several months ago.  My wife and I are scratching to keep things together.”   I offered to give him five dollars but, much to my surprise, he said no—not after handouts. 

 I have a buddy who has been out of work for eight months and is now selling his household belongings on eBay.  He holds a BS in accounting from a four year university.  Fifty-eight years old and been around the block more than once—definitely not a rookie.  Make no mistake, in this economy; you’re behind the “8-ball” if you are over fifty and looking for a job.   I have another friend who is a machinist by trade.  A remarkably talented individual, forty-eight years old with twenty-nine years of experience.  He has been out of work for eleven months.  The company he worded for relocated to Mexico.  OK, one more example and I’m done.  Another friend of mine owns a metal fabricating operation in Chattanooga.  They specialize in fabricating stainless steel piping and stainless steel assemblies for power utilities and the pulp and paper industries.  Two years ago, he employed fifty-seven people and worked two shifts.    Today, he has a crew of twelve people and desperately tries to give them five days per week. 

I don’t want to be mean about this, but I feel what President Obama really meant was,  he is just fine, Congress is just fine, the lobbyist are just fine, the Wall Street types are just fine, investment bankers are just fine, but the private sector—I don’t think so!

POSITIONS WANTED

April 22, 2012


Statistics sited in this document were taken from “National Association of Colleges and Employers”, Bethlehem, Pa. Survey of 160 Major Employers across the Country.

Across our country right now are millions of high school seniors anticipating graduation within a few weeks.  Many of those students have been accepted to attend colleges and universities, both near and far, with goals of pursuing their passion and finding that coveted “dream job”.  There are also a great number that really don’t know what they want to do but realize they have about two years to “declare” a major.  Too many times they do what daddy or mommy want them to do without taking a good hard look at what’s selling.  What occupations would I enjoy for a lifetime AND what occupations satisfy need for the basics; i.e. food, shelter, clothing, gas in the car, enough money for a date on Saturday night, etc., if graduate school is not in the picture four or five years down the road.  The statistics below may give the graduating high school senior insights as to where we are in this nation relative to employment and where we might be in the very near future.

AVERAGE NUMBER OF APPLICANTS PER JOB:

  • 2009-2010            40.4
  • 2010-2011            21.1
  • 2011-2012            32.6

Scary right?  As a college or university graduate, you will be competing with many individuals FOR THE SAME JOB.     Also, no longer is your competition “local” only.   People seeking employment have online sources to search for positions AND, they are willing to move in order to get the best job in their specific field.    My town is very fortunate to have VW as an employer.  Over 2500 people work at VW with 800 additional individuals being sought at this time.  I think it is very unfortunate that VW  is having to go “national” in its search for technical people.  We simply do not have candidates that meet their needs.  This is the country we live in right now and I suspect conditions will not get much better.

HIRING PROJECTIONS:

The recessionary period we have just experienced, and some say we are still in, has lead employers to defer hiring, thus creating the average number of job applicant per position as given above.  This hiring “freeze” has abated somewhat but competition is still extremely great.  Let’s take a look at employee hiring vs. year:

                YEAR         YEARLY CHANGE

  • Spring 2007         19.2 %  gain
  • Spring 2008         8%  gain
  • Spring 2009         21.6%  decline
  • Spring 2010         5.3%  gain
  • Spring 2011         19.3% gain
  • Spring 2012         10.2%  gain         

Hiring is definitely on the rebound and the greatest gains are within very specific fields of endeavor.  Let’s take a look at spring 2012 to see what professions are in demand.  Please keep in mind that 160 companies were interviewed to find out what disciplines represented the greatest need.

PROFESSON    % of EMPLOYER RESPONDENTS HIRING               

ENGINNEERING               69

BUSINESS                     63

ACCOUNTING               53

COMPUTER SCIENCES    49

ECONOMICS                22

PHYSICAL SCIENCES      19

COMMUNICATIONS        16

SOCIAL SCIENCES         16

HUMANITIES               13

The 160 companies interviewed also indicated they prefer prospective employees to have work experience within their specific field of study.  Co-ops, interns, volunteer efforts may just give you the edge when competition is the greatest.  It certainly won’t hurt.  Also, having a great and credible reference (or references) is a definite benefit.  

I will now like to give you my “short list” of desirable attributes relative to securing a position in the highly competitive job market.  This list is really intended for that entering university freshman and possibly gives them something to think about along the way.  You eventually WILL graduate.  You WILL eventually seek gainful employment.  Let’s take a look:

  • You MUST know how to draft a well written document, put words together to make a sentence, paragraph or page that makes sense and is readable.  Good punctuation, good “wordsmithing”, logical sentence structure and basic flow of ideas will get you a long way.  You would not believe what I have seen from university graduates.  Some simply don’t know how to write (which consequently makes me believe they don’t know how to think!).
  • The need to be bi-lingual or even multi-lingual is extremely desirable in today’s culture.  Learn Spanish or French or German or Italian.   Oh by the way, we have English and we have Southern—I’m from Tennessee, and I know the difference.   Know how to speak English- the King’s English -but know at least one other language. 
  • If you are a person of color you may have to “act white” when dealing with customers, peers, managers and teachers.  Don’t “axe” them a question, don’t use “ghetto” language and think you will get ahead any time soon.  It just does not work that way.  You will eventually be working in a professional atmosphere so be professional.  Employers won’t say anything but you will be evaluated based upon how you speak and how you answer questions.   I have told our three children that their first manager may just be an old guy like me, so behave. 
  • Read continuously from the moment you enter college and continue that action throughout your professional career.  Don’t ever think that watching hours of TV will do anything but waste your precious time.  Stay abreast of developments within your profession and discuss those developments with your peers and your manager.  Cultivate the habit of reading about subjects outside your chosen field.  Some day and in some way, that information will come back to benefit efforts within your profession.  Never fails!  Managers needing employees know those individuals who are well-read and articulate subject matter in a concise manner. 
  • Network—ALWAYS, prior to the interview and after the interview.
  • Dress in a manner that is appropriate for the interview and the job.  DON’T WEAR YOUR LUCKY BALL CAP TO THE INTERVIEW!  Pull up your pants.  Leave your mini-skirt at home.  The interviewer is looking for a worker, not a date.  Don’t even think about smoking or “dipping” during an interview or on the job.  (You would not believe what I’ve seen over the past few years.  What are these kids thinking? I even interviewed a guy who was smoking “weed” during the very short interview. )
  • Know the company you are interviewing.  Do your homework before you sit down with the HR guy.  What do they do?  Where are they located?  How many employees?  Where are their offices?  National or international?  You get the picture. You must know this information before you go in.
  • Don’t go into the interview unless you are sober. (Please see previous discussion.  Again, what are these kids thinking? )
  • YOUR COURSEWORK MUST REFLECT YOUR ABILITIES FOR THE POSITION YOU ARE INTERVIEWING .  You won’t be able to “wing-it here”.   Enough said.

Good luck!   I have worked with some of the very finest young people on the planet in my years as a mechanical engineer.  They are smart with great work ethic and really resourceful.  (I love the resourceful.)  Trust me on this one, you can do extremely well during the interview and on the job with the proper attitude and a willingness to listen, apply your considerable talents, and work.  Always remember—If you want to leave you’re footprints on the sands of time, you must wear work shoes.  Been there, done that, got the “T” shirt.

 

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