Skilled trades don’t appeal to students


Manufacturing student at Macomb Community College

“Nearly everywhere he goes, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder talks about well-paying, but unfilled, welding, carpentry, machining and other skilled-trades jobs, as well as technical occupations in health care,” writes Rick Hagland in Bridge Magazine. Yet, community college training programs in skilled trades are having difficulty recruiting students.

Skilled trades workers can earn $50,000 to $100,000 a year, say community college officials. But many students are dubious, especially if they have family members who lost manufacturing jobs in the recession.

“We’ve done a great job of convincing kids to go to college, but we’ve left the skilled trades out,” said Michael Hansen, president of the Michigan Community College Association.

Just 4.5 percent of Michigan community college students were enrolled in technical or industrial programs in the 2012-13 academic year, according to the state Workforce Development Agency. Another 7.7 percent were enrolled in health occupation programs.

. . . “For the most part, it’s hard to interest people in the 18-to-24 age group in occupations like welding and CNC (computer numerical control) machine operators,” Hansen said.

Employers want skilled workers, said Joe Petrosky, dean of engineering and advanced technology at Macomb Community College. “We’ve seen the demand for worker training come roaring back,” he said.

Eight community colleges in the state, including Macomb, will use a $24.9 million federal grant “to upgrade facilities and train more than 2,700 workers in machining, production, welding and fabrication, and multi-skilled technical positions,” writes Hagland.

Macomb also is among four community colleges in the state participating in the new MAT2 apprenticeship program, a three-year training program for engineering technician, information technology and technical product design jobs.

High school seniors and recent graduates entering the program get paid for on-the-job training from employers who also pay tuition costs. Those who complete the program get an associate degree and a guaranteed job.

Mottt Community College in Flint, Oakland Community College in Bloomfield Hills and Henry Ford College in Dearborn also will participate with 18 manufacturing employers.

Enrollment is declining at Michigan community colleges.

FabLab creates products, skilled workers

Students, entrepreneurs and small businessmen have used the fabrication lab at Mott Community College to create “everything from teething rings to automotive tools,” reports Michigan Live. A new 3D printer at the Flint, Michigan college will make it possible to “create products that are heat resistant, chemical resistant, waterproof and clear with three different choices in more durable materials.”

“(Fabrication labs are) places for people with creative ideas to get the idea off of the napkin and out of your head and get a working model in your hand,” said Tom Crampton, executive dean for Mott’s regional technology initiatives.

. . . things like prototype automotive parts will go straight from the printer to a working engine to see if what sounds good on paper works in real life.

The lab doesn’t just train students, Crampton said. It also supports product development. Flint needs more business.

Dustin Anger, 26, was a student at Mott when he came up with the idea for Specloc, a test tube clip that makes it easier to transport blood specimens. FabLab students helped him create a digital file and print a prototype.

Thomas Clark (right), of Flint, looks over a guitar designed in the Mott Community College FABLAB.

Thomas Clark (right), of Flint, looks over a guitar designed in the Mott Community College FABLAB.

Throughout the patent process, Anger printed hundreds of prototypes to decide what needed to be improved. By the end of the year, Anger plans to launch his company, DeNami Solutions.

“(Before stumbling upon the FabLab) I had no idea how to take this idea to a touchable product I could hold in my hand,” Anger said. “I met the most important connection of my life at the FabLab, the manufacturer for my product. . . . It’s a super helper. It’s a creativity sparker.

More than a half a million dollars-worth equipment will soon be coming to Mott’s FabLab to improve training in welding, machining, mechatronics and production. Training on state-of-the-art equipment will help Mott graduates find skilled jobs in automotive, aerospace, energy and other industries.

Illinois: CCs hope to add 4-year degrees

Illinois community college leaders tried to add four-year degrees eight years ago, reports The Southern. Now they’re trying again, arguing that offering four-year degrees at two-year colleges will enhance access and affordability.

Robert L. Breuder, president of College of DuPage, is leading the campaign.

“We spend time, money and effort recruiting and retaining students and then we ignore how they can best contribute to their local community’s economy and quality of life,” Breuder wrote in a March 26 letter published by the Chicago Tribune.

“We shouldn’t lose them because we couldn’t offer the baccalaureate degree in a field that no public university cares to offer despite a documented need within the districts the community colleges serve.”

Nursing, construction management, electronics and healthcare administration would be possibilities at John A. Logan College, says President Mike Dreith said. But he doesn’t want to endanger the college’s “extremely sensitive” relationship with nearby Southern Illinois University, which strongly opposed a baccalaureate option at community colleges eight years ago.

It’s time to let community colleges offer four-year degrees in technical fields, writes Jim Nowlan, a retired senior fellow with the University of Illinois Institute of Government and Public Affairs, in the News-Gazette.

A full-time community college student pays about $3,500 a year in tuition and usually lives at home, he notes. A state university student pays  $10,000 to $14,000 — before room and board fees.

College of DuPage enrolls 28,000 students — more than any campus in the state other than the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Students take courses in 90 certificate programs and 59 associate degree occupations.

Breuder wants to take advantage of COD’s strong position to offer low-cost, four-year degrees in fields like information technology, public safety management, advanced manufacturing, auto technology management and, especially, nursing.

Twenty-two states have approved four-year degrees at community colleges, writes Nowlan. Illinois should too.

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.

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.

Colleges partner for manufacturing program

Nashua Community College (NCC) and Southern New Hampshire University’s College for America will partner on an advanced manufacturing program that will blend online and competency-based learning, reports AP.

The Advanced Manufacturing by Innovation and Design program will create a path for students to move from a certificate in advanced manufacturing to an associate degree in precision manufacturing and mechanical design.

Students will use College for America’s competency-based curriculum, which is built around online projects, while also learning hands-on skills in NCC labs. Local businesses will help students gain real-world experience.

“Industry partners are key to the program’s success and will play a pivotal role in the instructional design of (the program), in close collaboration with College for America’s innovative teaching and learning model and Nashua Community College’s rigorous Advanced Manufacturing curricula,” said NCC President Lucille Jordan.

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.”

How to make students employable

To make students more employable, community colleges must engage with industry and take “a hard look at what the job market is telling them,” writes James Jacobs, president of Macomb Community College in Michigan. He co-chaired the American Association of Community Colleges’ Implementation Team 5, which worked on closing the nation’s skills gap.  

Community colleges should develop close ties with local industries, the team recommends. That includes researching industry trends, hiring “instructors from the industries — who can bring with them not just experience but also contacts — and maintaining ties with students who land jobs in these industries.” 

Many businesses “value credentials designed to indicate mastery of a particular skill or subject matter as much as or more than a formal degree,” the team found.

At Michigan’s Macomb Community College (MCC), where I serve as president, we feature a production operator program that provides students with a basic orientation to manufacturing work, teaching the skills they need to obtain a job in the field. After students complete our program and secure an entry-level position, they are invited back to MCC to take for-credit classes focused on specific skill sets, all of this dependent on the needs of their employer.

“The days of comprehensive community colleges that offer a vast number of options are drawing to a close,” writes Jacobs. “Instead, community college should offer fewer options based on the needs of local and regional labor markets.”

Manufacturers see skills gap


Workers assemble the Chevy Volt electric vehicles and Opel Amperas at the General Motors Detroit Hamtramck Assembly Plant on Oct. 11, 2011, in Hamtramck, Mich.

More than half a million skilled manufacturing jobs remain unfilled due to the labor skills gap in the U.S., according to one estimate.

Many job applicants lack the basic math and computer skills needed to train for high-tech manufacturing jobs, employers complain.

U.S. manufacturing employs more than 12 million workers.  An estimated 600,000 skilled manufacturing jobs are unfilled, according to a 2012 Deloitte study.  That could increase as more baby boomers retire.

“If we can’t fill the skills gap, it’s going to be very difficult to be competitive in the global market,” said Ted Toth, vice president and managing director of manufacturing technologies at Rosenberger-Toth, which manufactures parts for satellites and cellphone towers.

. . . “To understand the skills gap, we have to understand how the public understands manufacturing,” the head of the New Jersey-based company said. “They see it as a dark, dirty, dangerous industry.”

Young people need to be told that manufacturing is a viable alternative to pursuing a bachelor’s degree, said Toth. Employees are “blue tech” workers, he said.  “They utilize technology such as computerized machines and robotics, and also in new and exciting careers in three to four times the minimum wage.”

Business leaders in two western Ohio counties are working to interest high school students in skilled trades jobs. The Auglaize & Mercer County Business Education Alliance is raising money to hire an outreach coordinator who will visit local high schools.

Electrical contractor Jack Buschur wants to find high school graduates interested in training to be electricians. “We have lots of opportunities,” Buschur says. “We’d like to keep our young people in the area and see them make a very good living.”

Bring back shop classes, writes Josh Mandel, Ohio state treasurer, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.Too many young people have four-year liberal-arts degrees, are thousands in debt and find themselves serving coffee at Starbucks or working part-time at the mall,” he writes. “Many of them would have been better off with a two-year skilled-trade or technical education that provides the skills to secure a well-paying job.”

Not all apprenticeships are equal

Apprenticeships are hot, but not all lead to middle-class jobs, writes Mark Schneider on The Quick and the Ed.

Last month, President Obama announced a $100 million fund to support apprenticeship programs in fields such as information technology, health care and advanced manufacturing. For all the praise of apprenticeships, the number enrolled is much lower than 10 years ago. Completions are down from 52,000 in 2002 to 44,000 today.

The White House says that 87 percent of apprentices find jobs that average more than $50,000 a year in pay. This is an exaggeration, according to Florida data. The median wage is $37,252 for registered apprentices, who typically study at a community or technical college.


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Graduates with an associate degree in science earn the most, with the associate in applied science coming second and apprentices a close third.  Graduates with a bachelor’s degree start at only $33,652. 

Starting wages are much higher for apprentices in jobs that “keep things working” than for those in cooking and early childhood education. Elevator construction mechanics start at $67,565.


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“The best training is on-the-job training,” says Linda Poage, program manager at the Apprenticeship and Journeyman Training Center at Spokane Community College. Community College Daily looks at existing college-linked apprenticeship programs and plans for expansion with new federal dollars.