Monday, February 27, 2012

Labor shortages in manufacturing

Op-ed in today's WSJ about the problems manufacturing companies are having with keeping up with demand.  A Deloitte survey finds that 5% of all jobs are unstaffed because companies cannot find qualified, trained workers.  Even though unemployment continues to be over 8 percent, skill shortages persist.  Great quote from a community college president in my home state of Kentucky: "In the 1980s, U.S. manufacturing was "80% brawn and 20% brains, " but now it's "10% brawn and 90% brains."

Funny how neither political party is talking about this.  Low hanging fruit in an election year. 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

NC State wins statewide case competition

Kudos to MBAs Ben Mathew, Mansi Shah, and Michael Donahoe and MAC student Alyssa Jaklitsch for winning the Association for Corporate Growth Private Equity/M&A case competition.  The team beat three teams -- Duke, UNC, and Wake Forest -- with investment banking experience to take the top spot.  Last year's team took 2nd place; aced out by exec MBAs from Wake.  The team will be recognized at an ACG meeting in April in front of over 50 private equity and investment banks.   

Kudos as well to Professor Ken Marks, who helped prepare the team.  This is the type of recognition that helps put NC State's MBA on the map.  

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Minimum wage hike as a stimulus

That's what some pols in NY and NJ are pushing for.  The minimum wage is currently $7.25 but Democrats and some Republicans in the NJ legislature are looking for an election year bump to $8.50.  Why?  They can claim they are helping the working person, plus it does not have any effect on the state budget. 

To provide some perspective, the federal minimum wage was increased in three steps from $5.15 at the beginning of 2007 to $7.25 by the end of 2009, right at the time the labor market was in its worst shape since the 1930s.  I have not seen any careful studies yet, but you can bet that the minimum wage increase made the unemployment rate higher than it would have been otherwise.  If the NJ increase goes through, it would amount to a 65% increase in just five years. 

Studies have shown that most recipients of the minimum wage are teens and young adults, few of whom are heading households and many of whom are working part-time.  One predictable consequence: their employment will fall.  Doubt the pols want to take any credit for that.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Regulating higher education

For years colleges and universities have participated in federal financial aid programs.  Now some strings are starting to be attached.  As I noted in an earlier post, the higher education community is viewing this development with some concern. 

Today's NYT editorial on the subject illustrates some examples of what might be in store.  The new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has drafted a one page shopping sheet (NYT's terminology, not mine) that every school would have to make available showing annual cost (tuition, housing, books, etc. net of scholarships) and how it compares to national averages.  This would be a big step forward; I can tell you from personal experience that one of the hardest items to find on any university's website is the tuition. 

The Department of Education is working on a College Scorecard reporting data on cost, graduation rates, indebtedness, and employment.  This also would help parents and students make more informed decisions. 

Now I am sure there are other ideas out there that I will not be so crazy about, but it strikes me that the cost of providing this information will be modest compared to the benefits. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Two cheers for the payroll tax cut extension

Not so much for the extension itself.  The economic evidence on this front is overwhelming: temporary tax cuts provide little to no stimulus.  Also by extending the ability of workers to collect unemployment benefits for more than one year, Congress is locking in additional unemployment.

But we all knew the tax cut and benefit extensions were going to happen anyway in an election year.  To partially "fund" these goodies, Congress took two positive steps:

1) Changes to the Unemployment Insurance: WSJ reports that workers on involuntary part-time schedules now will be allowed to collect some benefits, which may encourage employers to keep workers on the payroll part-time (as opposed to layoffs).  Also programs such as Georgia Works, where the unemployed can collect benefits while going through training programs, also will expand.  Finally, the self-employed will now be covered by UI; not sure how this is going to work.

2) Spectrum auction: To fund the extra UI benefits, Congress agreed to auction off spectrum currently held by television stations to expand wireless networks.  NYT reports the auction is expected to raise $25 billion and will help us all play more games and watch more streaming videos on all our iDevices.  Some of the spectrum also will go to first responders.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Rethinking classroom utilization

Across literally thousands of colleges and universities, faculty members present the same information in essentially the same way to students in lectures.  Why do we need thousands of new lectures on elasticity of demand or sunk cost every semester, plus no doubt a few hundred more every summer?  With today's technology, aren't we leaving some pretty huge economies of scale on the table.

According to an article in last week's WP, some big-name universities are starting to rethink how they use classroom time, including live lecturing.  One advantage of a lecture is that it allows a professor to combine perspectives from a wide range of sources beyond a textbook in a seem-less fashion.  But why not record the lectures in advance so that students watch them before class, and then make the classes much more interactive?  Some schools are starting to experiment with active dialog between the class and the professor; others are using small group interaction.  Clickers can be used to see if students are mastering the basics.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

On disability

Most of the headlines on deficit/debt issues focus on Social Security retirement benefits and Medicare.  In the last ten years, Social Security's disability program has been getting increased attention.  In yesterday's WP, columnist Robert Samuelson laid out the basic facts:
In 2010, Social Security's disability program cost $124 billion plus another $59 billion for Medicare (after two years, disability recipients automatically qualify for Medicare). This exceeded $1,500 for every U.S. household. For the past two decades, disability spending has increased at a 5.6 percent annual rate, compared with 2.2 percent for the rest of Social Security. As a result, disability represents nearly one in five dollars of Social Security spending, up from one in 10 in 1988.
The irony is that fewer and fewer jobs are in sectors with high rates of injury or occupational disease such as agriculture, mining, construction and manufacturing.  So why are disability rates soaring?  MIT economist David Autor isolates two causes: the overall labor market has been crummy and the eligibility criteria for disability have been widened to include mental problems.   Disability eligibility is all or nothing; once certified as disabled, a person cannot work.  Hence rising joblessness and additional strain on federal budgets.  Don't expect any changes in this program this year. 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

TrueCar vs. "I'll check with the manager"

Automobiles are mass produced by a limited number of sellers, but historically pricing has been far from transparent.  The sticker price is taken as an upper limit (although there are sometimes two stickers: one from the manufacturer and one from the dealer) and it is up to the individual customer to negotiate something lower.  Some people hate to negotiate and thus pay top dollar.  Others relish the process and sometimes can buy at well below dealer cost (once the car is on the lot, the cost to the dealer is sunk so the salesperson will take the best price they think is attainable in the market -- as MBA 505 students all know). I always use it as my first example of first degree price discrimination. 

Recently has emerged as a useful intermediary.  Potential buyers register at the site and get data on the dealer's true cost along with a guaranteed price from dealers in their area.  Dealers pay $299 to TrueCar for each lead that becomes a sale; customers get multiple bids they can use as leverage before they even enter a showroom.  (I used it recently; the only downside is a continued stream of junk emails from the dealers.)  Of course some dealers are less than delighted with this arrangement, as noted in a story in today's NYT

Ultimately one must wonder when a car company will decide to buy out its dealers and revolutionize the retail process.  You would have showrooms with a limited number of demos; after a test drive, customers would order exactly what they want on the web. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Kellogg announces major changes

I attended the annual GMAC Leadership Conference in Miami last week and the closing session discussed the major trends that are affecting the strategies of business schools.  So far higher education has avoided the competitive pressures from globalization and technological change that have transformed other industries.  I think the clock is ticking, especially for schools that rely on "sage on a stage" for information delivery.  (Aside: Why should literally tens of thousands of b-school professors be giving the same lectures semester in and semester out?  Schools could tape the very top profs and sell their lectures to other schools and both sides would end up ahead.) 

Back in the office yesterday, I got a note from Adrienne Jablonski (formerly an NC State colleague, now at Oklahoma) with a link to this BWeek article on Kellogg's new strategic plan (here is another take from the Economist).  Here are the major changes afoot:
• The size of Kellogg's highly regarded two-year, full-time MBA program will shrink by as much as 25 percent over the next three to four years--from 1,115 students to about 850--and enrollment in the executive MBA program would also come down. At the same time, the size of the one-year MBA program will double or triple, from 80 students to as many as 240.

• New, one-year master's degrees will be added to the Kellogg portfolio. These would be alternatives to the MBA. One such degree that the b-school is considering is a fifth-year master of science degree for undergraduates.

• The entire Kellogg MBA curriculum and research program will come in for a major overhaul, its first since 2002-03 and its deepest in nearly 30 years. It will be structured around four areas: markets, customers, and growth; "architectures of collaboration," or managing relationships with suppliers and customers through the use of technology; innovation and entrepreneurship; and the role of public policy in private enterprise.

• New, short-term certification programs will be established in international locations, including Sao Paulo and Shanghai. The non-degree programs, which lack the academic heft of an actual degree, will allow students to earn a Kellogg certificate for taking a group of courses on a specific topic. Faculty will be reviewing this idea in coming months.
We have started one new one-year degree at NC State -- the Master of Global Innovation Management -- and have a couple of others on the drawing board.  I clearly see pressure to shorten the time needed to complete the MBA.  I also see increased pressure to make sure that we are delivering as much value added as possible in each credit hour.  We continue to live in interesting times.  For more details on Kellogg's plan, click here.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Good news on the jobs front

Two bits of good news in the last 4 days.  First the January jobs report was the best since April, with the economy notching a net of 243k new positions.  Unemployment fell to 8.3 percent, the lowest since February 2009.  Sectors showing the largest gains: health services, professional and business services, and manufacturing.  Construction is still flat.  The other bit of good news: job postings from employers are up.