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Training & Education

Closing the gap

By Udo O.J. Huff, M.ED.

A need to fill vacancies exists as skilled workers retire in the employee market

April 2012- Recently, a flyer in the mail from my son’s high school, where he is a student in Michigan, stated, “You are invited to a free college planning class! Parents bring your students!”

This is a great idea, and it certainly encourages the important ambition of every graduate to earn a college education. It’s a goal echoed in high school hallways nationwide that the majority of graduates pursue.

But how productive is that pattern in states like Michigan? The economy is improving and orders for manufactured products are increasing, creating demand for more skilled trades personnel.

There is a skilled workforce in the group more than 55 years old, but this generation is approaching retirement. When those workers retire, they will take their experience and years of trade knowledge with them.

trained-udo0412-quote

Education after high school
In terms of a college education, what implications are there for the future skilled workforce of manufacturing companies?

For example, if 500,000 students in Michigan graduate from high school each year, once in college and depending on the course of study, earning a bachelor’s degree will take them about four years. This means those students enrolled in college will not be part of a full-time, productive workforce during those four years.

In addition, unfortunately, not all college students will complete their programs to earn a bachelor’s degree. What will happen to the college dropouts? How and when will they enter the employee market with no skills?

It will take four years to complete a college degree program. This will be repeated for the next four years and so on, and not everyone who enters college will earn a degree. For example, only a portion of Michigan students preparing to earn a college degree each year will graduate.

The only statistical indicator of the potential workforce industries have is the number of unemployed young adults. Numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and state training and development offices show some graduates go into apprenticeship training programs. There are unknown factors that can affect industry workforce needs.

This is the type of flyer high school parents are not receiving: “Apprenticeship training planning class! Parents bring your students!”

How do we develop our future skilled workforce and satisfy industry needs? It is not easy to predict the future. A large number of the existing skilled journeypeople will retire in 10 years. The economy is growing and so is the demand for a skilled manufacturing workforce.

The initiative has to come from us, and we should use existing market opportunities and tools to close the skilled employee gap. The prospect of skilled worker shortages is a risk to the health of manufacturing industries, which are the foundation of a viable U.S. economy. Our youth represent future U.S. human capital. As students enter college, just as many of them should enter training and apprenticeships to bridge the skills gap.

Market opportunities
What market opportunities exist for young people and what kind of tools are available?

For one, the industry needs to create a working technical educational infrastructure and a reliable guide for students. Companies should establish structured career paths and career opportunities. There should be as much emphasis on cultivating skilled trades as there is on college education. This needs to happen sooner than later.

To some extent, it already exists. For example, the Department of Labor’s Office of Apprenticeship Training, Employer and Labor Services and the National Institute for Metalworking Skills provide structured, technical, educational programs for students and their employers as sponsors.

Investment and its risk are part of any business. Isn’t it a greater risk not to train skilled personnel in support of a growing business?

This country has the best resources and opportunities to grow and sustain a manufacturing workforce. But people are the most crucial aspect. Through generations of young high school graduates, veterans and eager immigrants, any person looking to better himself or herself through technical education has been able to do so. Now, let’s focus on today’s students. FFJ

Udo O.J. Huff is an independent consultant with project experience in machine building, welding engineering, training and development. He holds Master of Education and Bachelor of Science in Technology degrees from Bowling Green State University. Questions or comments? E-mail uhuff@sbcglobal.net.

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