One of the concerns of those who are skeptical about community colleges expanding their vocational curriculums – an idea strongly supported by President Trump and his administration – is that the courses offered in welding, machining, truck driving, construction and other so-called blue-collar occupations may not meet the exact needs of today’s economy. Let’s clarify this issue right now, once and for all.
My company, a Midwest steel manufacturing firm, is keenly aware of the skills gap that is widening for workers who can turn a lathe, program and operate CNC machines, weld and maintain industrial warehouse operations, to name just a few. Studies conducted in the last three years by the American Manufacturing Institute, Deloite Research and the U.S. Department of Labor all indicate the U.S. manufacturing industry is facing a serious shortage of skilled labor.
The reasons, they found, include baby boomer retirements, misconceptions about what manufacturing jobs entail, insufficient or inappropriate skills, the pressure to go to University at all costs, the exodus of manufacturing to overseas companies and the lack of formal job training facilities. I can attest to the fact that they are all very true. So, what can we do about it?
First, it is important to note that as boomers retire and more manufacturing operations seek cheaper overseas labor, there still remains a large contingency of manufacturing right here in the USA. These companies need skilled workers but it is getting more difficult to find them.
That is why I am highly supportive of increased vocational training, specifically at the community college level where students are given professional instruction culminating in a degree or specialized certification for each skilled discipline.
Despite the dwindling numbers of workers, the studies show are more than 9.8 million students are currently enrolled in the 1100 community colleges nationwide. These programs are stepping up their game to complete against four-year colleges by providing high-tech coursework along with the technical and soft skills needed for manufacturing positions.
Increasingly, we’re seeing a wide range of classes offered to meet the job requirements of light industrial operations, such as assembly and forklift training, welding, metal, steel and marine fabrication.
Lex Group is in support of the Trump administration’s efforts to increase workforce and vocational training at the community college level, and are encouraged by the investment already being made to add blue-collar skills to the colleges’ academic offerings.
We also agree with the American Association of Community Colleges which represents nearly 1,200 schools across the country and the 12 million students who attend annually. It is continuing to partner with industry to meet the needs of employers and employees to provide vocational training for a variety of jobs that are available.
According to the U.S. Department of Employment, job prospects for machinists and tool and die makers, for instance, are expected to increase through 2026 with an earning potential of more than $62,000 per year. Similar opportunities exist for skills that include metalworking, forging and stamping, parts manufacturing, computer-aided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM) and many others.
Community colleges are in the ideal position to teach the future generation of the workforce not only the basic dexterity skills but the knowledge of today’s technology that is required in jobs that once involved simple machinery operation. Graduates with associate of arts degrees and/or certifications are equipped to adapt analytics on the factory or assembly floor, as well as math skills and computer application experience (ie: programming and operating CNC machine tools and computerized measuring machines.)
Partnering together, ultimately educators and the industrial community can bridge the skills gap. This will not only ensure that the manufacturing jobs of the present and future do not go unfilled, but that the manufacturing sector continues to thrive and fuel our businesses, communities and economy.