There is a tremendous demand in the job market, both locally and nationally, for highly-skilled technicians. Half of the jobs held in this country by recent college graduates do not require a degree, and a large percentage of those same graduates hold jobs in something other than their chosen field of study. This, coupled with the emerging advanced manufacturing sector, begs the question as to why more young adults aren’t steered towards technical skills training and the aligned job opportunities.
Outsourcing is a huge reason for lots of jobs being lost in our country but this is slowly reversing because of issues overseas such as rising wages, safety and quality concerns, and rising fuel prices that simply make it more difficult to ship products globally. Akin to Americans embracing the organic and “farm-to-table” movement in the food industry, more consumers want products in other sectors that are made domestically. A recent Harris poll of 2,000 U.S. consumers discovered that 75 percent were willing to pay more for American-made products.
Those manufacturing plants need technicians that are highly-skilled and also possess the soft skills needed in all workers. The Obama administration is pouring millions of dollars into grants for technical and community colleges to develop training that graduate technicians who install, repair and upgrade the advanced equipment in these manufacturing facilities. In the building trades, there exists boundless opportunities as well. The last time I checked, I wasn’t using outsourcing to fix my plumbing, or my car, or a hundred other things that require highly advanced technical skills to complete the task.
Manufacturing has changed greatly in the almost 20 years that have passed since I worked in this sector in various capacities. Even 20 years ago, the environment wasn’t what many people envision. Technicians worked then, as they do now, in a clean, fast-paced, and safe environment where many jobs required advanced technical skills in areas such as millwright, automated controls, production process systems, and computer-assisted drawing and design (CADD), just to name a few. It is exciting that in many states, and also right here in Colorado, that employers like Arrow Electronics is relocating and building manufacturing facilities creating jobs in our communities. With these giant manufacturers come many support businesses and industries that also bring jobs to those same communities.
For young adults and their parents who are perhaps searching for something other than a traditional educational and feel the only avenue to a good job or career is via a four-year degree – think again. Career and technical education is no longer the stereotyped vocational training of the past. I only wish that instead of taking shop classes in high school, I would have had the advantage of something that has been popular overseas which is skills-based technical training. Public educational Institutions here in Denver like Emily Griffith Technical College and the Community College of Denver offer Denver Public Schools high school students concurrent enrollment coursework in areas like welding and machining that leads to additional advanced manufacturing opportunities and training. This creates a pipeline of highly trained technicians to fill existing jobs and position Colorado with a skilled workforce that will in turn draw employers looking for employees with this skill-set. This challenge creates opportunities for more young (and those seeking re-training) adults and strengthens our skilled employee base that creates a stronger working Colorado.
Part one of a two-part series. Next up, the debate between traditional academic and skills-based training.
Jeff Barrat is Executive Director of Emily Griffith Technical College.