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Sunday, Dec. 21, 2014

American labor deals with world of change

Sunday, September 1, 2002

SIKESTON -- Whether planning to barbecue, catch a ballgame or simply relax, take a moment on Labor Day to honor the creator of most of the nation's strength, economy and freedom -- the American worker.

American labor has certainly seen some changes through the years, but it's also seen its fair share of consistencies. These days workers must be able to apply their knowledge and adapt to changes, especially with the emergence of new technology.

"We're dealing with a world of change," Mike Barnes advised. "People need to be better educated, more adaptable and versatile these days. They need to be able to cope with change."

Barnes is a vocational counselor at the Missouri State Employment Security Division in Sikeston. He's been discussing employment opportunities with numerous people every day for 23 years.

Barnes said 90 percent of the jobs the Division helps people get are blue collar. After all, it's the blue collar workers who started Labor Day.

The First Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 1882, in New York City by plans of the Central Labor Union. In 1884 the first Monday in September was selected as the holiday. The idea of celebrating a "workingmen's holiday" on that date spread with the growth of labor organizations, and in 1885 Labor Day was celebrated in many industrial centers of the country.

One area industry, Noranda Aluminum, Inc., produces primary aluminum products in New Madrid. "Years ago workers used their back more than their brain. Workers are still physically fit, but they're communicating better," Steve McPheeters, superintendent of communications/employee training and development of Noranda Aluminum, Inc., said.

No matter what the job, all workers are required to have basic skills. Noranda does testing on personality profiles and basic mathematics for their employees, McPheeters said. Computer training is also offered for Noranda's employees, he added.

"Workers today need math, reading and problem-solving skills, but all of these skills are useless unless they have a sense of spirit and willpower behind that," Human Resource Manager Paul Bixler of Good Humor-Breyers in Sikeston, said.

Computers have changed everything, Barnes said. People need to keep up with the skills in order to survive, he cautioned.

"Ten years ago, anyone who had computer knowledge was considered specialized. Now it's a requirement," Derek Wheeler, co-owner of Wheelers Steel Works in Morley, said.

Today's employees need to a have a willingness and an eagerness to learn, McPheeters insisted. Emphasis has changed. It's not good enough to just show up, he said.

Not that American workers aren't doing their part. Wheeler thinks work ethic has improved over the last five to ten years because there's become a greater degree of workers' pride.

"Back in the late 1980s, workers became very conscious to the quality of work and timing," he said. "Blue collar workers saw a direct impact because some were losing jobs due to lack of production. It affected them."

It's employees who make the equipment work, McPheeters said. Without employees, technology wouldn't work, he concluded.

Bixler agreed: "Technology can't run itself -- and it never will."

While new technological approaches such as robotics and automations in industries have allowed more competition and production for markets over recent years, Bixler said it's things that haven't changed that stick out in his mind. For instance, balance of work and life has always been an issue for the American worker, Bixler. "World War II was a time when people worked and worked hard. They had the tenacity and dedication that allowed one to better himself and have an ongoing education.

He continued: "Today we're fighting a war -- and even an economic war," Bixler noted. "It's a good fight and American workers are dedicated in building up the economy. And it's not all on Wall Street. It's the companies that are full of personality and provide public goods, services and products."