Pushing the trades

Fewer students are training for jobs in the skilled trades, despite the demand for welders, plumbers and skilled manufacturing and construction workers, reports Community College Times.

The Trades in Focus Community College Initiative, a campaign through the American Association of Community Colleges, is trying to connect employers, colleges and potential students. W.W. Grainger Inc., a distributor of industrial products, is the sponsor.

For example, Joe Snyder works full-time as an electrical technician apprentice at a MAG machine tool facility while taking free night classes in manufacturing engineering technology at Gateway Community and Technical College (GCTC) in Kentucky. He hopes to earn an associate degree.

Today at the annual AACC convention, college presidents and industry executives will discuss attracting more students to industrial trades’ careers.

The skilled labor shortage will get worse in the next few years as aging workers retire, predicts Trade in Focus. ”One-third of all skilled plumbers will leave the workforce in the next few years, while demand for plumbers is expected to increase by 10 percent through 2016.”

However, many job seekers don’t know that trades jobs require problem-solving and technical skills, says Erin Ptacek, director of corporate brand and reputation for Grainger.

Since 2006, Grainger  has funded $2,000 Tools for Tomorrow scholarships for community college students pursuing careers in the industrial trades, such as welding, plumbing, HVAC, electrical and construction. One third of the scholarships now go to military veterans, who often learned transferable skills while serving. In 2011, Grainger will offer 200 scholarships through 100 community colleges across the country.

Gary Green, president of Forsyth Technical Community College (FTCC) in North Carolina, has seen enrollment in the skilled trades programs start to grow.

FTCC is working with Caterpillar, which is helping to train students to work in its new plant.

In addition, the college is training students for work in the state’s $6 billion motor sports industry. Producing and operating racing cars for the NASCAR circuit calls for “high levels of skill and exacting specifications,” Green says.

. . . “There is always a risk that these jobs could be outsourced if we don’t produce the highly skilled workers needed to undertake that kind of manufacturing,” Green says.

San Diego Community College District (SDCCD) can’t meet the demand for training in skilled trades.  There are opportunities in infrastructure and commercial construction, as well as energy-efficient construction.

The large military presence in San Diego has spurred SDCCD to recruit military veterans and pair their broad-based skills with jobs in aircraft maintenance, automotive technology and other trades, (Dean Lynne) Ornelas says. The Vets2Jets program at SDCCD’s Miramar College provides counseling and career workshops to help people leaving the military make the transition to college.

Kentucky has lost  low-wage, low-skill jobs. Gateway is training workers for new jobs in electronics, mechatronics, hydraulics and pneumatics, which  pay an average of $51,000.

The MAG plant where Joe Snyder works has automated its processes for manufacturing equipment to make aircraft fuselages.

“The operator has to know how to operate and program the machine, how to test the quality of materials produced, and understand how the machine fits into the overall production process,” Hughes says.

GCTC has partnered with several local companies that work with the college to design apprenticeship and training programs and subsidize all or part of students’ tuition while they work in paid jobs.

The college created its “gee-whiz center” equipped with computer-run manufacturing machines to interest high school students in manufacturing careers. In addition, GCTC instructors teach mechatronics courses at local high schools.

POSTED BY Joanne Jacobs
ON April 11, 2011

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[…] boomer workers near retirement, employers are partnering with community colleges to train a new generation of skilled trades workers. But many young people don’t realize there are opportunities in manufacturing, plumbing, […]

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