America in 2013

I attended a conference in the Caribbean this week and met an old friend I have not seen in perhaps 30 years.  He had flown in from the U.S. and I and my associates from Europe.  We both have invested in the Caribbean and both lament the destruction of the day when massive investment in U.S. manufacturing meant significant return on investment.  My friend continues to eek out a survivors income from a small operation in Georgia.

I inquired as to what his major difficulty was other than government and competition from offshore.  His immediate response was “labor.”  He explained further by saying that when individuals came to the plant to apply for work they were given a pencil and two sheets of paper with the sentence “Divide 117.463 by 13.374 and display the result to three decimal places with proper rounding.”  at the top of one of the sheets.  Before being placed in a room where the individual knew they would be filmed, they were asked to surrender any device that could function as a calculator. 

He found that over thirty percent of applicants in fact did not surrender cell phones and in all cases where a cell phone appeared on video monitoring those phones were used to determine the result.  Of the cell phone generated answers more than fifty percent were incorrect.  Many of these errors came from not understanding the concept “three decimal places with proper rounding.”

What I found to be extraordinary was that a total of 574 applicants sat to perform a simple mathematical test before one applicant calculated the correct result by hand and displayed 8.783.  After hearing his obvious frustration with applicants, I did not have the heart to ask him whether he had been sued with someone claiming the simple test was “racially biased.”  Sitting in the courtroom for that trial would likely speak volumes of America in 2013.

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