Closing the skills — and earnings — gap

Jassiel Aguila uses an arch welder to merge two pipes together as he continues his education as a pipefitter at the Air Conditioning, Refrigeration and Pipefitting Education Center on Jan. 5, 2012, in Opa Locka, Fla.

By 2020 there will be a shortage of 875,000 machinists, welders, industrial-machinery mechanics and industrial engineers, according to a Boston Consulting Group report

Manufacturers are working with high schools and community colleges in hopes of closing the industrial skills gap, writes Katherine Peralta on U.S. News.

Unlike other teenagers’ summer jobs, Brett Fledderman’s begins at 6 o’clock in the morning, has him programming metal stamping equipment and pays $9 an hour, well above his home state Indiana’s $7.25 minimum. The 17-year-old is part of a new job training program in Batesville in which local businesses, the community college and the high school collaborate to ready a new field of talent for jobs in manufacturing.

“I learn a lot faster with hands-on work, so stuff like this really makes me learn a lot faster than I would in the classroom,” says Fledderman, who’s working this summer at Batesville Tool & Die, a 400-employee company that makes and supplies metal stamping components for the car, appliance and industrial sectors.

Nationwide, most machinists, welders and industrial maintenance workers are “50-something,” says Gardner Carrick, vice president of strategic initiatives at the Manufacturing Institute , a research arm of the National Association of Manufacturers. Companies need to build a pipeline of skilled workers to prepare for the coming “retirement crunch,” he says.

Most manufacturing areas have enough skilled workers now, but five cities – Miami, San Antonio, Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Wichita, Kansas – have “significant or severe” skills gaps already.

In Indiana, machinists, tool and die makers, welders, cutters, solderers and brazers pay a median wage of at least $17, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

At Batesville High, 70 to 80 percent of students plan to go to a four-year college or university, says Jim Roberts, the school corporation’s superintendent. School administrators have had to “redirect to a more practical approach” in educating students about realistic job market prospects, he says.

Jody Fledderman, Batesville Tool & Die’s president and CEO and Brett’s uncle, says the program in his community is possible because of the cooperation between the high school, the community college – Ivy Tech – and area manufacturers, including Batesville Casket Co., Heartwood Manufacturing Inc. and Virtus Inc. Students in the co-op program, who enter as juniors, split their weeks between classes at the high school and Ivy Tech and on-the-job at one of the four businesses.

Fledderman hopes students will graduate one semester short of an associate degree. The company hires some four-year graduates, but primarily is looking for workers with a technical associate degree and industrial skills.

This way up


STEPHANIE RABELLO, REGISTERED NURSE | Working her way from practical nurse to registered nurse to bachelor-degree nurse. Preston Mack for The Wall Street Journal

There’s more than one route to the middle class, writes Tamar Jacoby in This Way Up in the Wall Street Journal. “Americans have a host of postsecondary options other than a four-year degree—associate degrees, occupational certificates, industry certifications, apprenticeships.”

What they need are “easy on-ramps, goal-oriented job training and a series of ascending steps, with industry-certified credentials to guide the way.”

In Orlando, Fla., there are many paths to the nursing profession, she writes.

The University of Central Florida trains only bachelor-degree nurses. You need an outstanding high-school record, there’s a long waiting list, and tuition is $14,000 for in-state students—and more than three times that if you’re not from Florida. Two well-equipped, award-winning community colleges—Seminole State and Valencia —offer associate-degree RN programs, where tuition is $7,500. Then there is Orlando Tech, a county-run career center, located in an old building in an industrial area near downtown, which trains licensed practical nurses for about $5,000.

RNs average $65,000 year, while LPNs start below $40,000. But there are ways to move up.

The streamlined route starts in high school: a “dual enrollment” magnet program that allows focused, able students to earn college credit and professional certifications, including as a nursing assistant. Participants who enroll within two years at Seminole or Valencia get advanced placement credit, saving as much as $1,250. And those who are really in a hurry can matriculate simultaneously at UCF, earning “concurrent” credit for advanced courses taken at community-college prices, then graduate in just three years with a UCF bachelor’s degree.

For many, it’s a long journey.  Stephanie Rabello, 41, went from high school to a 10-month LPN program at a local career center. After nearly 20 years as a practical nurse, she enrolled in a yearlong LPN-to-RN “bridge” program at Seminole State. “Online classes and convenient clinical rotations” let her continue working while she studied, writes Jacoby. Now an RN, Rabello hopes to earn a bachelor’s in nursing at UCF.

Sherry Harris, 33, who followed a similar path from LPN to RN, calls it “step-by-step” professional training—the “working-class way in.” Ms. Harris is now taking the next step: an RN-to-BSN program for a bachelor of science degree in nursing.

Jacoby, president of Opportunity America, also looks at welding — which can pay as much as $100,000 a year — and franchise management.

‘College for all’ includes community college


Stop Feeding High-School Students the Myth That College is Right For Everyone, writes Karen Cates in Businessweek.

While unemployment among recent college grads is 8.5 percent, 46 percent of recent grads consider themselves “mal-employed” in low-level jobs that don’t require a degree, she writes.

Meanwhile, construction and other trades are seeking skilled workers. However, employers won’t hire just anyone.

With recent advances in materials and computer science, the work in construction and many other trades is getting more complex, requiring new cognitive skills in many cases. “We don’t consider our apprentice and training programs as just a good alternative for individuals who cannot or do not want to go to college,” says John Grau, CEO of the National Electrical Contractors Association. “Based on the sophistication of our trade and the high level of training it requires, a good number of our applicants enter our [training] program after earning a college degree.”

Yes, everyone should go to college, responds Libby Nelson on Vox. That includes going to community college to qualify for good blue-collar jobs.

Many people imagine a bright line between college and vocational education — Ph.Ds on one side, plumbers on the other. That line doesn’t exist, and it hasn’t for at least a generation. Particularly at two-year colleges, programs for future English majors and future auto mechanics often exist side-by-side. One path might lead to an associate degree, the other to a certificate, but they’re both at a place called “college.”

As higher education economist Sandy Baum wrote in a report for the Urban Institute: “It is common to hear the suggestion that many students should forgo college and instead seek vocational training. But most of that training takes place in community colleges or for-profit postsecondary institutions.”

About 30 percent of construction workers and 20 percent of industrial workers have earned a vocational license or credential, according to the Census. They earn more than workers without a credential but less than those with a degree. Eighty-two percent of workers with vocational credentials earned them at a college, Nelson writes.

In other words, the vocational path to the middle class usually runs through a community college job training program. And those with weak reading, writing and math skills will have trouble succeeding in job training or persuading an employer they’re good candidates for on-the-job training.

Indiana debates free tuition

Indiana is debating free tuition for community college students, reports the Indianapolis Star.

Nearby Tennessee has promised a free community college education in hopes of improving job skills.

“Think how we’d change the state,” said Jeff Terp, Ivy Tech Community College chief operating officer. “We’d have one of the most educated workforces in the country.”

However, Teresa Lubbers, state commissioner for higher education, fears eliminating tuition would do little for low-income students, who already are eligible for state and federal aid. Many attend IvyTech for free and have grant money left over to pay for books and expenses, she said.

Most of the benefits of free tuition would flow to students whose families can afford to pay community college tuition, Lubbers said.

Computer boot camps help ‘Plus 50″ students

Free computer “boot camps” are helping older learners in the Plus 50 Encore Completion program, reports Community College Daily. Teaching computer skills eases the transition to college and recruits students into workforce training programs focused on health care, education or social service fields.

San Jacinto College (SJC) in Texas calls its computer center  Never2Late, or N2L. It provides flexible hours, tutors and a certification of completion.

“When I came back this time, I was so nervous because every classroom had computers in them,” said Randy, 52. “I’d been in the workforce so long but needed the computer skills, so I knew I had to face this fear.” Counselor Leander Nash walked him down to N2L, he said.

South Arkansas Community College provides an eight-hour basic computer course that is open to all students and free to those over age 50.

In California, El Camino College’s free computer basics boot camp is for adults age 50 and over who have enrolled in Plus 50′s two health care programs, pharmacy technician and medical coding and billing.

Swiss: Voc ed is key to prosperity


Students on the vocational track at Swiss training institute Ausbildungszentrum.

Americans believe earning a four-year degree is the key to prosperity, writes Marc Tucker on Education Week. In Switzerland, which has one of the strongest economies in the world, 70 percent of high school students are in their vocational education system, while only 20 percent prep for universities.

The Swiss set very high standards in their academic and vocational tracks, Tucker writes. Vocational students come from every ability level and every economic level. Graduates will qualify for high-skill, high-wage jobs. Some will rise to lead global firms.

Swiss vocational students do multi-year apprenticeships at a work site. Employers provide instruction and mentoring.  “Students alternate between time spent in vocational schools, paid for by government, and time spent in individual firms and in programs offered by industry associations, paid for by the firms,” Tucker writes.

What impressed us most were the apprentices we talked with, young people who were entrusted with substantial responsibility by their employers, very proud of the remarkable level of skills they were achieving and of the contribution they were able to make to the firm for which they were working, and justifiably confident of their future.  Many could see a clear path to college if they wanted it, but most were content to start out on the career for which they were training and eager to see where it would lead.  Nothing about them suggested that they felt that they had been shunted into a dead end.

U.S. schools provide little vocational education, he writes. Employers do even less. “In our misguided drive to send everyone to four-year colleges, we have turned our back” on vocational education and training, he concludes. Yet most young people will enter the workforce without a college degree — and without job skills.

Carnevale: Link loans to value

President Obama’s student loan plan, which limits repayment to 10 percent of the borrower’s disposable income, closes the barn door after the horse is gone, says Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce, on NPR.  The fundamental question about college debt is whether students are “getting value for money,” says Carnevale.

Are we helping people cope with debts they never should have taken on in the first place?

Students and their parents don’t always think through what they’re spending for college and what they’re likely to get for it, says host Michel Martin.  If students know they’ll only have to pay 10 percent of their income — with the unpaid balance forgiven in 10 to 20 years — might they be tempted to think “it’s not going to be that big of a deal?”

That’s a risk, says Carnevale. If the system isn’t linking loans to long-term earnings, it will continue to be ineffecient.

Ultimately, the taxpayer pays for that as do many of the students who find these loans still overwhelming. That is, it’s not as helpful if you’ve built the loan and it’s going to burden you for a number of years. Just have somebody help you with the burden. The real issue is ensuring that you minimize the burden in the first place by linking value — economic value — to the loan.

The loan policy will help some people, he says. More fundamentally, we need to “ensure the young people know what they’re getting into when they borrow and make sure they’re not borrowing trouble down the road.”

Stop telling 18-year-olds to follow their “passion” — and run up huge debts, writes economist Peter Morici in the Baltimore Sun.

Easy access credit has pushed up college tuition far faster than inflation generally and even health care costs. University presidents are happy to pad bureaucracies and indulge faculty who would rather undertake research than teach, if students can borrow money to pay for it all.

College primarily “is about acquiring skills that have value in the marketplace,” writes Morici.

Employers seek skilled workers

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Lyle Fry drills a hole into a handlebar he is making during a mechanical engineering technology class at Cincinnati State. (Photo: Gary Landers, The Cincinnati Enquirer

Employers are going to college campuses to help guide training for future employees, reports USA Today. Accounting, data analytics and advanced manufacturing companies are looking for workers with “the right mix of technical and communication skills.”

Employers are calling me constantly looking for good people,” says Mike DeVore, who chairs the Mechanical Engineering Technology program at Cincinnati State Technical & Community College. “We used to contact them (employers). Now they contact us.”

Get the job, then train for it

The trucking industry needs to hire 95,000 new truckers every year, but training programs turn out only 75,000 and half the job applicants are ineligible due to recent drunk driving convictions. A startup called WorkAmerica is trying to fill the gap: The company vets would-be truckers and places them in community college training programs — with a guaranteed job offer.

“No student should enroll in a vocational job program without having a job guarantee,” said Collin Gutman, WorkAmerica’s CEO and co-founder. “We get jobs for people before they start a college class.”

“A growing number of startups want to play the matchmaker role between community colleges and employers,” reports Inside Higher Ed.

WorkAmerica plans to forge partnerships with community colleges and expand into high-churn fields such as welding, medical assistants, and IT and HVAC technicians.

Employers pay the company to screen prospective hires. If they meet the company’s requirements, they get a job offer good if the applicant completes the academic program in good standing. Community colleges, which pay nothing, “get a pipeline of students without having to spend on marketing,” reports Inside Higher Ed.

Maryland’s Hagerstown Community College is considering a partnership with WorkAmerica for the college’s eight-week trucking program. The company is talking to Anne Arundel Community College , also in Maryland, about pilot programs in several fields beyond trucking, Gutman said.

Another company, Workforce IO, has created a technology platform to link employers with job trainers such as community colleges, nonprofit organizations, mentors or bosses.

Workforce IO hinges on being able to vouch for the reliability of entry-level job candidates. It does that by having created a “library of skills” in various fields and offering digital badges for those skills, said Elena Valentine, a co-founder of the company.

Workforce IO has collaborated with Grand Rapids Community College, in Michigan, as well as an Illinois campus of Everest College, a for-profit institution.

Lots of stuff is affordable — but not college

This chart shows why America’s low- and moderate-income families can afford flat-screen TVs but can’t afford to pay for their children’s college education, writes Grace at Cost of College.

20140503.COCCollegeInflationPoorPeople1

Don’t underestimate the value of career education, writes a New Orleans student.  Employability is the “ultimate prize,” writes Milan Miller, whose family members benefited from vocational education.  Developing a skill set valued by employers is possible with a bachelor’s degree, “a two-year degree, an online degree, work experience” or self teaching.