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.

Obama signs workforce training bill


President Obama spoke at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College on Friday.

Last week, President Obama signed the bipartisan Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act , which reauthorizes federal job training legislation. He also announced executive actions to implement a review of job training programs released by Vice President Joe Biden. The report calls for working more closely with employers and presents a “job-driven training checklist” to ensure programs lead to jobs.

The president and vice president have been talking up job training in visits to community colleges, reports Community College Daily.

President Obama said the Department of Labor no longer will give waivers for a requirement that federally funded training programs make public how many of their graduates find jobs and how much they are paid, reports Inside Higher Ed.  “That means workers, as they’re shopping around for what’s available, they’ll know in advance if they can expect a good return on their investment,” Obama said.

Community colleges may not have access to employment and earnings data for former students, said James Hermes, associate vice president for government relations at the American Association of Community Colleges. “It’s not a question of them not wanting to be accountable,” he said. “It’s a question of them not getting the data in the first place.”

The administration also announced a $25 million competitive grant to create an “Online Skills Academy” that would help students earn credentials from accredited institutions.

Obama backs ‘job-driven training’

President Obama endorsed bipartisan job training legislation in his weekly address. He plans to visit a Los Angeles community college that’s retraining workers for health-care jobs this week. Vice President Biden will release a report on creating a “job-driven training system.”

‘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.

Mississippi: Skilled workers draw skilled jobs

Eastern Mississippi’s “Golden Triangle” has drawn “high-wage, high-skill jobs to an area with very low median income, poorly ranked schools, and a history of farming and low-end factories,” writes James Fallows in The Atlantic.

Laid-off workers from packing houses and minimum-wage garment plans weren’t ready for jobs in “a billion-dollar modern steel mill or an Airbus helicopter factory,” he writes. But East Mississippi Community College, or EMCC, stepped in to train local people for skilled jobs so they can share in the new prosperity.

Raj Shaunak, born in Kenya of Indian ancestry, built a manufacturing business with family members in Starkville, Mississippi. When it was sold in 1989, he began teaching adult-education courses and math, then went on to workforce development.

EMCC advertises its job training options and places students in “skills-based pathways,” Raj explains. Students are assessed, “brought up to speed in areas of weakness” and trained in the skills they’ll need to be employable.

These include precision measurement, ability to read graphs and blueprints, “lean manufacturing” procedures, teamwork and flexibility, trouble-shooting, “continuous improvement,” and all the other traits you’ve heard about if you’ve visited any advanced factory in Japan, Europe, China, or the US.

In the EMCC training facilities, students work on real versions, or sometimes scaled-down models, of the machinery and products being made in the local factories. I saw them dealing with real engines from the nearby PACCAR factory, and real computer-controlled machine tools.

A new Yokohama Tire assembly line will need 500 workers. EMCC hopes to train as many as 5,000 candidates.

“What happens to the ones who don’t get hired?” Raj asks, anticipating the question. “They will have much higher skills, and they will be more marketable—either when Yokohama opens its next phase [another 500 jobs], or anywhere else.”

“We cannot guarantee a job for anyone. We are in the business of training people to be part of a qualified pool of applicants. We’re trying to move people from dependence to enterprise and independence.”

Also as part of the Yokohama deal, all of the company’s own direct hires—”its engineers, its PhDs, its technicians, everyone except the CEO!” as Raj put it—will also go through an EMCC program.

“When you are competing for businesses, you have to have the infrastructure, you have to have the quality of life, you have to have the land,” Raj told Fallows. “But most places that are competing have those things. We now have a critical mass of trained and trainable workers. Companies have told us that this makes the difference.”

To expand training for advanced manufacturing jobs, EMCC is opening a $38 million “Communiversity” to house 15 manufacturing, technology and engineering educational bays, reports The Dispatch.

Corinthian crashes

Under investigation for falsifying job placement rates, for-profit Corinthian Colleges will sell 85 campuses and close 12 others. The national company runs Everest, WyoTech and Heald career colleges.

The Department of Education had put a hold on Corinthian’s access to federal student aid. Under an agreement reached last week, the DOE will provide $35 million in student aid funding to provide time to sell or close the colleges. Corinthian’s finances will be monitored closely by an independent auditor.

Corinthian receives $1.4 billion in Pell grants and federal student loans each year, which represents 85 percent of total revenuesreports the Miami Herald.

The company is facing charges in several states, including Florida and California, of exploiting and misleading low-income students.

Florida’s community colleges, which are some of the best in the nation, often offer similar programs at a far lower price. For example, Everest’s Pompano Beach location charges about $15,000 in tuition for a medical assisting diploma; at Broward College, the same program costs $1,698 for in-state students.

The Florida attorney general’s investigation of Everest has produced 100 pages of complaints, reports the Herald.

The California attorney general’s lawsuit cited internal Corinthian documents that described its students as “isolated” individuals with “low self-esteem” who have “few people in their lives who care about them.”

The California lawsuit states “the placement rates published by [Corinthian] are at times as high as 100 percent, leading prospective students to believe that if they graduate they will get a job. These placement rates are false and not supported by the data. In some cases there is no evidence that a single student in a program obtained a job during the time frame specified in the disclosures.”

In some instances, the suit says, Corinthian paid temp agencies to give its graduates short-lived jobs — so it could inflate the job placement numbers, and maintain the accreditation required to receive federal aid.

Corinthian’s enrollment has fallen to 72,000 students, estimates the DOE.

National Journal has more on the fall of Corinthian.

An open door to debt?

Community colleges provide an open door — to failure and debt, argues Community Colleges and the Access Effect  by Juliet Lilledahl Scherer and Mirra Leigh Anson.  Scherer, an English professor at St. Louis Community College, specializes in developmental education. Anson, a former remedial writing instructor, runs the University of Iowa’s Upward Bound Project.

Poorly prepared students have little chance of success, write Scherer and Anson. Raising admissions requirements would strengthen academic classes for prepared students and protect the unprepared from debt.

Open-door admissions can perpetuate inequity, the authors tell Inside Higher Ed‘s Paul Fain in an e-mail interview. One mentors a a brain-damaged young man who was shot in the head when he was 16. He enrolled in community college, failed all his courses and went into debt that made him ineligible for a job training program. He works part-time for $7.35 an hour.

As students’ skills and ability levels declined, community colleges designed lengthy remedial sequences, Scherer and Anson write. Some “credit-bearing coursework . . .  is equal to standard kindergarten fare.”

The national college completion agenda movement is threatening academic standards, they charge. Advocates also blame remedial courses for high failure rates, ignoring “the monumental impact of academic preparation, aptitude and student motivation on completion.”

The rise of performance-based funding puts more pressure on community colleges to lower standards in order to raise completion rates, they add. That will make community college graduates unemployable in a competitive workforce.

“Reasonable entrance standards, coupled with a more compassionate approach to advising and enrolling community college students” will help students succeed, they argue.

 Some current degree-seeking students would thrive more — completion-wise and financially — in apprenticeships and job-training programs than they would in traditional two- or four-year degree programs.

Some are in desperate need of short-term training programs to financially stabilize them so that one day they might return and succeed in a more traditional degree program. Instead of repeatedly enrolling in and failing developmental education coursework aimed at eventually qualifying students for college-level coursework, many persons with intellectual disabilities, for example, are truly in need of affordable postsecondary programs to assist them in developing a career plan and independent living skills, including learning to manage their money and their personal safety and health, for example.

A few community colleges now require students to test at the seventh-grade level or above.

Community colleges are about second chances, responds Matt Reed. We don’t know who will take advantage of the opportunity before they try. And the alternatives for students who are turned away are very bleak.

CCs need new financing models

Community colleges must diversify their funding sources, writes Rufus Glasper, chancellor of Maricopa Community Colleges in Arizona. Public funding is unlikely to rebound, he writes. “We should consider privatization where appropriate, but far from the core missions of access and excellence in teaching and learning.”

More of the costs of education should be “shared with local businesses and industries that depend on the students we train,” Glasper writes.

Privatization suggests more aggressive marketing. Who among us hasn’t asked, or been asked, why we don’t do a better job of telling our astounding stories, from the lives we change to the hope we instill in students and community members?

Leveraging public-private resources, such as joint community libraries, wellness centers and health clinics, allows for community use and provides new and experiential opportunities for our students.

Community college leaders must increase their fundraising and development efforts to bring in new revenue, Glasper concludes.

In Detroit suburbs, a model for higher ed

Macomb Community College in the Detroit suburbs is a higher education model, writes Jack Lessenberry in the Toledo Blade.

 With the collapse of the state’s old muscle-based full-employment economy, pretty much everyone seems to agree on three things: Michigan needs more people with higher-education degrees, education needs to be affordable, and it needs to lead to jobs.

Macomb Community College seems to have created a model that works to deliver all three objectives at a wide range of levels. Students of limited means can and do enter the two-year college, take basic courses for less than half the tuition they’d pay at a four-year school, then transfer to an institution that grants bachelor’s or master’s degrees.

. . . the college also provides fast job training to people who need it. Macomb has an eight-week program that trains people to run the fairly complex machines used in today’s assembly plants and other manufacturing operations. The college says the program has an 85 percent job placement rate.

The college’s president, Jim Jacobs, has been at Macomb as an instructor and administrator for 40 years. “We are about giving people skills, sometimes for a specific job, but more importantly, skills they can keep using,” he said. “We need people who can adapt, and we try to give them the ability to do that.”

Based on work at Macomb, the Community College Research Center has released advice for colleges on simplifying the decision-making process for students.

Obama: Train solar energy workers

“Building a skilled solar workforce” will be a priority, said President Obama in a speech last month. The Department of Energy’s Solar Instructor Training Network (SITN) “will support training programs at community colleges across the country that will assist 50,000 workers to enter the solar industry by 2020.”

However, solar energy graduates are having trouble finding work, reports the Denver Post.

Hundreds of students intent on finding work in the solar energy industry have graduated from four-month and two-year programs at Red Rocks Community College since 2008.

But finding a permanent job today in the rapidly changing, competitive industry that is heavily influenced by public policy, may require grads to start their own businesses or even look for jobs in other energy businesses.

Most solar companies have only a few employees, said Troy Wanek, who leads Red Rocks’ renewable energy technology department.

“Graduates have found jobs manufacturing solar panels and are also prepared to work as installers,” says Clark Mozer, who directs the Electro-Mechanical and Energy Technology Program at Front Range Community College’s Fort Collins campus. Students learn a “tool box of electrical and mechanical skills.”

Find jobs for “green” graduates has been a problem in Texas, Michigan, Maryland and elsewhere.

Dreams of millions of “green-collar jobs” haven’t come true notes the Wall Street Journal. “Solar employment stood at about 93,000 in 2010. Two years—and a ninefold increase in solar power—later, solar employment had increased just 28%.” Wind power doubled but cut the number of workers.