The “skills gap” is no big deal now — but it could be in the future, if we don’t take steps to train new workers, writes Harold Sirkin, a Boston Consulting Group partner, in Businessweek.
The shortage of skilled welders, machinists, and industrial machinery mechanics represents less than 1 percent of U.S. manufacturing workers, Sirkin estimates. Only seven states and five cities – Baton Rouge, Charlotte, Miami, San Antonio, and Wichita — have significant shortages.
However, that could change in the next 10 years as manufacturing grows and baby boomers retire. The average high-skilled manufacturing worker in the U.S. is 56 years old, according to government data.
Technical and community colleges are working with employers to train workers in some parts of the country, Sirkin writes.
In Georgia, for example, a program called Quick Start provides companies with customized workforce training and retraining, free of charge, in partnership with the state’s technical colleges.
Here in Chicago, the Austin Polytechnical Academy teaches students all aspects of industry and has its own manufacturing training center.
“Most high-skill manufacturing jobs require only a high school education and on-the-job training,” yet few companies recruit in high schools, Sirkin writes. And manufacturing doesn’t appeal to young people seeking bachelor’s degrees, even though half of recent college graduates are unemployed or underemployed.
The question we need to ask bright young people today is this: Would they be better off with a college degree in mass communication, “poli sci,” or sociology that gets them a job as a retail clerk or waiting tables, or would they be better off with a real skill that qualifies them for a high-paying manufacturing job?
After years of high unemployment and rising college costs, students are wising up about borrowing for a degree in what we used to call “fuzzy studies.” But advanced manufacturing — and other technical careers — may not be open to students with weak math and science skills.
Welding is a STEM job, says Traci Tapani, CEO of a Minnesota sheet-metal company that’s training its workers, rather than relying on local community colleges, writes New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. Wyoming Machine works on armoring Humvees.
“Many years ago, people learned to weld in a high school shop class or in a family business or farm, and they came up through the ranks and capped out at a certain skill level. They did not know the science behind welding,” so could not meet the new standards of the U.S. military and aerospace industry.
“They could make beautiful welds,” she said, “but they did not understand metallurgy, modern cleaning and brushing techniques” and how different metals and gases, pressures and temperatures had to be combined.
Moreover, in small manufacturing businesses like hers, explained Tapani, “unlike a Chinese firm that does high-volume, low-tech jobs, we do a lot of low-volume, high-tech jobs, and each one has its own design drawings. So a welder has to be able to read and understand five different design drawings in a single day.”
Unable to find qualified applicants, Wyoming Machine hired a trainer. But it was hard to find trainees with sufficient math and science skills, says Tapani.
“I can’t think of any job in my sheet metal fabrication company where math is not important. If you work in a manufacturing facility, you use math every day; you need to compute angles and understand what happens to a piece of metal when it’s bent to a certain angle.”
Many community colleges and universities can’t keep up with employers’ needs, Friedman writes.
Miami Dade College makes workforce training a priority, collaborating with more than 100 companies, says Eduardo Padrón, the president. “Every program that we offer has an industry advisory committee that helps us with curriculum, mentorship, internships and scholarships.”
Immigrants used to take an unskilled job and work their way into the middle class, Padrón says. “That is no longer possible.” Education is a necessity, not a “luxury for the few.”
Welding is a hot career field at community colleges, reports Community College Times.
At Wallace State Community Collegein Alabama, enrollment in the welding program has doubled since 2007.
“In my 15 years at Wallace State, every graduate who has wanted a job has gotten a job,” said welding instructor Jim Thompson. “A good, skilled welder can get a job anywhere.”
Across the nation, community colleges are expanding welding programs. Owens Community College in Ohio and Randolph Community College (RCC) in North Carolina have opened new welding centers. Mobile welding stations have opened at Flathead Valley Community College in Montana and Pitt Community College in North Carolina.
The National Center for Welding Education and Training, which is located at Lorain County Community College in Ohio, received a $2.9 million grant from the National Science Foundation to train welders in advanced techniques. The industry needs about 30,000 new welders annually, Weld-Ed estimates.
“Welding is not held in high regard,” says Duncan Estep, director of the National Center for Welding Education and Training (Weld-Ed), a public-private partnership based at Lorain County Community College (LCCC) in Ohio. People think welding is dirty and dangerous.
Weld-Ed stresses that modern welding is a high-tech field. LCCC offers a two-year degree for welding technicians, who serve as the liaison between engineers and welders.
The average welder today is 56 years old. Some 239,000 new and replacement jobs in welding will be created within the next eight years, Weld-Ed estimates.
The group is promoting welding as a noble, stable and high-paying occupation.
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.
Laid-off Iowans face long waits to get into job training programs at community colleges, reports the Des Moines Register.
At Des Moines Area Community College, students may wait two years to enter the nursing program, three years for dental hygiene. Automotive and welding programs, which struggled to fill classrooms three years ago, are moving into larger facilities to meet demand. Culinary arts had a 1½-year waiting list till it expanded. More than 100 students are waiting to enter the program in the fall.
All of the state’s community colleges report long waiting lists for health programs such as nursing and most have wait lists for technical programs such as welding.
Iowa Western Community College in February will unveil a new nursing center in 27,850 square feet of renovated space and a new addition. The center will include four surgery tech classrooms and 10 simulator classrooms.
Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids added a second evening weekend section to its licensed practical nurse training program last year. The college now offers six sections each of first- and second-year nursing classes. About 375 students are enrolled in the program, and another 1,200 are working on the prerequisite classes.
DMACC runs its welding stations 15 hours a day every weekday, plus weekends. Pay for welders starts at $12 an hour and can grow to more than $20 an hour. “The need for welders is just phenomenal,” says Robert Denson, the college president.