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.

Colorado: Graduates’ skills don’t match jobs

College graduates’ skills don’t match the available jobs, said participants in a community forum in Fort Collins, Colorado, reports The Coloradoan. 

Matt Dinsmore, co-owner of Wilbur’s Total Beverage in Fort Collins, said he employs three people with masters’ degrees, including a beer stocker with a physics degree.

Martin Shields, a Colorado State University economics professor, said a college degree is an important investment, but the first four to five years after college are “tougher than they’ve ever been.”

Dawn Putney, CEO of design and marketing firm Toolbox Creative, most four-year graduates don’t have the job skills she needs. Young people are encouraged to go for a university degree,  not to explore alternatives such as community colleges, she said.

Jim Neubecker, a member of the Governor’s Workforce and Small Business Development Council, said union electricians, pipe-fitters and plumbers can work 40 hours per week while attending school two nights per week, learning skills while avoiding debt. Community colleges often partner with unions to get students certified on otherwise prohibitively expensive equipment, Neubecker said.


Retired CEOs fund vocational training

High-tech entrepreneur Andy Grove funds scholarships for vocational students at community colleges, adult ed programs and private career colleges. In an interview with the Philanthropy Roundtable, Grove talks about the importance of vocational training.

In high school, capable students are steered away from vocational education, Grove complains. In community college, completion rates are very low.

First of all, they need to work while they are in school. Second, many of them need remedial education. Third, they can’t get the required classes and counseling they need—and that was before the budgetary cuts of the current year. Partly for this reason, we also fund scholarships for private vocational training institutes.

A related issue is the capacity of a community college to take recent high school graduates and get them through the program. Students need help navigating their way. So for high school students entering community college, we directed 20 to 30 percent of our funding to support systems. I don’t know whether the system is overly complicated as compared to what it might be, or whether the students — even the ones who have earned a scholarship — are less able to stand on their own two feet than they should be. In either event, they need a lot of handholding when they get there so they don’t get lost.

Grove had hoped his program would be a model for others, but that hasn’t happened. It’s hard to fight a system that values academic degrees and discounts job training, he believes.

As a Jewish child in Hungary, Grove hid from the Nazis. At the age of 20, after the Soviets crushed the Hungarian Revolution, he fled to the U.S. City College of New York was his first step to a PhD in engineering. He became a founder of Intel.

Bernie Marcus, founder of Home Depot, and John Ratzenberger, carpenter turned actor (Cliff Clavin), have teamed up on a campaign to encourage young people to consider careers as skilled trades workers. Working with the Marcus-funded Center for America, Ratzenberger is making a documentary called Industrial Tsunami on the skilled trades.


To avoid default, try technical college

To understand whether to borrow for a college education, students should listen to investors in bonds backed by student loans, suggests the Wall Street Journal. It’s a $242 billion market.

Hedge fund manager Daniel Ades of Kawa Capital Management won’t invest in bonds backed by loans made to 2010 and 2011 graduates, “because we can’t quantify the risk,” he told the Journal.

Investors like Mr. Ades have a unique view on the future for America’s job-seekers. Their investments depend on accurately predicting young people’s ability to repay their loans, which means they obsess about everything from employment rates by profession to the long-term earning potential of young graduates.

Historically, investors have assumed 25% to 30% of student loans bundled into their bonds will default. But today they are baking in between 30% and 40% default rates among the current crop of graduates, said Chris Haid, a director in asset backed trading at Barclays Capital. Even those assumptions are a best guess and defaults could ultimately go higher if unemployment rises, Mr. Haid said.

Not surprisingly, failure to graduate sharply raises the likelihood of default. So does the failure to finish on time.

Investors in bonds backed by student loans hate to see perpetual academics in their portfolio, chronically changing majors or stopping and starting school, adding years of tuition to their debt load.

“When you see a guy in a loan made in 2005 that is still in school, you throw that away,” said investor Rubin Bahar, of Eagle Asset Management.

In the current economy, the return on investment can be better for two years at a technical or community college than a four-year degree and three years of law school. A technical degree from a public two-year college delivers relatively  high wages for a low cost, according to Mr. Ades. The median annual community college tuition is $2,963 a year the College Board estimates.

“We’re in a skills based economy and what we need is more computer programmers, more [nurses],” he said. “It’s less glamorous but it’s what we need.”

A technical college degree is worth as much as a bachelor’s degree, concludes Thumbtack, which surveyed business people — contractors, photographers, performers and others — who advertise their services on the site. The hourly rate for technical college graduates is $55 an hour. Bachelor’s graduates also average $55 an hour. (“Technical college” includes for-profit career colleges and technical degrees earned at community colleges.)

Electricians, plumbers, auto mechanics and HVAC techs trained at community colleges and technical colleges make good money and can’t be outsourced, notes Glenn Reynolds in Popular Mechanics.

Employers complain, but don’t train

Employers complain they can’t find skilled workers, but they’re demanding too much and refusing to train new workers, Peter Cappelli, a management professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and director of Wharton’s Center for Human Resources.

To get America’s job engine revving again, companies need to stop pinning so much of the blame on our nation’s education system. They need to drop the idea of finding perfect candidates and look for people who could do the job with a bit of training and practice.

Half of employers surveyed by Manpower say they have difficulty finding skilled workers. That’s because they want experienced workers with exactly the right skill set, Cappelli writes.


Notice the shortage of skilled tradesmen, sales reps, drivers, admins and machinists on the Manpower survey. These are jobs that typically don’t require  bachelor’s degree.

Employers should work with colleges to ensure that job candidates developed needed skills, Cappelli writes.

Community colleges in many states, especially North Carolina, have proved to be good partners with employers by tailoring very applied course work to the specific needs of the employer.

Candidates qualify to be hired once they complete the courses—which they pay for themselves, at least in part. For instance, a manufacturer might require that prospective job candidates first pass a course on quality control or using certain machine tools.

Employers also can create apprenticeships, when possible, or longer probationary periods for novices to get up to speed, he suggests.

In Capelli’s follow-up — he got tons of mail — he concedes there’s a shortage of  information technology graduates with skills in mobile devices and data mining. That’s because students choosing majors four years ago didn’t anticipate the mobile boom.  “We cannot expect schools and students to guess what skills employers will need,” Cappelli writes. “Employers have to do more.”


Careers and college

Demand for college graduates will be high, once the recession ends, concludes Help Wanted, a Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce report. Colleges should streamline programs to emphasize employability, says Anthony Carnevale, director of the center, in Inside Higher Ed.

Carnevale acknowledged that such a shift would accept “a dual system” in which a select few receive an “academic” college education and most students receive a college education that is career preparation. “We are all offended by tracking,” he said. But the reality, Carnevale said, is that the current system doesn’t do a good job with the career-oriented track, in part by letting many of the colleges on that track “aspire to be Harvard.” He said that educators have a choice: “to be loyal to the purity of your ideas and refuse to build a selective dual system, or make people better off.”

Most high school students should develop a career plan before going to college, Carnevale said. Community colleges and state universities should encourage students to train for a career and track graduates’ success in the workforce. Funding should be shifted from flagship universities that educate the best prepared to community colleges and other public institutions that educate “most of America.”

But few teenagers know what they want to do with their lives, says HechingerEd.

More college-educated young people are seeking careers in the skilled trades, reports the Washington Post.

They started out studying aerospace engineering, creative writing and urban planning. But somewhere on the path to accumulating academic credentials, they decided that working with their hands sounded more pleasant — and lucrative — than a lot of white-collar work. So bye-bye to term papers and graduate theses, and hello to apprenticeships to become plumbers, electricians, auto mechanics and carpenters.

Adam) Osielski thought he’d go from Notre Dame, where he earned a theology degree, to law school. But it seemed like drudgery. He was graduated this month from an apprenticeship program run by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. “I’m glad to be already working and developing a career.”

Economists and labor scholars say the rocky economy has been a boon for trade schools. But they also point to policymakers, guidance counselors and parents who don’t value the trades and overvalue college as the gateway to success. As a result, American students come to trade apprenticeships relatively late, often after they’ve already tried college. The average age of the beginning apprentice in the United States is 25; in Germany, 18.

High school counselors “want everyone to go to college,” said Dale Belman, a labor economist at Michigan State University. “So now we’re getting more of the college-educated going into the trades.”

Licensed journeymen typically earn $65,000 to $85,000 a year, depending on overtime, the Post reports. Apprenticeship programs are swamped with applicants. The electricians’ union has 2,500 applications for 100 slots.

Most gravitate to commercial construction, where digital equipment has made the ability to decipher technical manuals and complicated building codes crucial. Many aspire to be foremen or own their own business.

Rateeluck Puvapiromquan, 30, the daughter of two teachers who immigrated to Baltimore from Thailand, earned a philosophy of religion degree at St. Mary’s College. After working in coffee shops and hotels, she became an electrician.  “The critical thinking and communication skills I learned in college are absolutely crucial to getting our work done. It’s critical thinking, not just, ‘I lift heavy objects.’ ”

Via Instapundit.