Why Aren’t Young People Considering Blue Collar Jobs?

March 27, 2012

It’s ironic that every manufacturer or contractor that I talk to have plenty of work to do, but a limited number of qualified people to do it. Mike Rowe recently pointed out that young folks can make up to 100K a year working in a factory according to a recent article on CNN Money.com. The same holds true for other tradesmen like plumbers, electricians and HVAC contractors. These folks can make 60-80K a year, and they can’t ship those jobs across the pond.

These factory jobs aren’t low tech anymore, or are they in dingie old factories. These are high-tech, high-salary jobs running multi-million dollar manufacturing cells using the latest computer technology. Right Skills Now is a program that was started to get both technical schools and colleges to work together to train workforces. Its model can be started anywhere in the country and for various types of jobs.

If we want to have a resurrection of manufacturing jobs here, we need to start letting parents and kids know there are alternatives to a 4-year degree. If you’re a manufacturer or contractor, here are some grass-roots things you can do in your community to promote these kinds of jobs:

  • At career days at your schools, volunteer to talk to the kids. Give them the benefits of the opportunities that are available. Make it fun, exciting and cool!
  • Work with your trade associations and school guidance counselors to make sure they have the proper info to give to kids.
  • Have an open house or career day event and bring local students to your place and show them the opportunities.

What things can you add to the list? We’re all in this together and we need to let young people know about these opportunities.


“Right Skills Now” Provides Fast-Track Training for Tradesmen

November 30, 2011

The biggest issue I hear from both contractors and manufacturers is lack of work isn’t the issue, but lack of qualified people to do it is. Right Skills Now  may not be the end all but it’s a model that can work for both on a regional basis. I know one of Mike Rowe’s passion is training the professional tradesman and this is a step in the right direction.

According to a Skills Gap study by the Manufacturing Institute, more than 80 percent of U.S. manufacturers can’t find qualified people for the nearly 600,000 skilled production jobs that are currently unfilled.

For American manufacturing to be successful, employers need machinists that have the right skills, and they need those skills now. That is the impetus for a new, fast-track education initiative called Right Skills Now.

The program is an accelerated, 16-week training course for operators of precision machining equipment. It provides classroom and hands-on shop experience to prepare students for immediate employment. It also allows individuals to earn college credit and national industry certifications.

One of the founders of Right Skills Now is Darlene Miller, CEO and owner of Permac Industries in Burnsville, Minn. She helped launch the training program for CNC machinists in her home state.

As a small business owner representing the manufacturing sector, Ms. Miller was asked to serve for two years on the President’s Council for Jobs and Competitiveness. The Jobs Council is comprised of citizens chosen to provide non-partisan advice to the President to help foster economic growth, competitiveness, innovation and job creation.

Photo caption: Darlene Miller discusses the capabilities of the University of Pittsburgh/VA Human Engineering Research Laboratory with Director Rory A. Cooper, Ph.D., during a recent PCJC listening and action session.

PMPA provides staff assistance to Ms. Miller for her Jobs Council duties. Miles Free, PMPA’s Director of Industry Research and Technology, helped assure that the initial draft curriculum for Right Skills Now focused on delivering relevant skills needed in today’s advanced precision machining shops.

According to Ms. Miller, the first time she met with President Obama, she was asked to talk about the economy as it related to manufacturing and small business. “One of the things I said to the President was, ‘Not every student needs to go to college,’” she says.

“He had recently made a speech saying that every student should go to college. But he later agreed that while not all students must go to college, they do need some educational training beyond high school.

“I told him that in the precision machining industry, we have an urgent need for skilled people,” Ms. Miller continues. “We can’t afford to take just anyone off the street, provide some training and then put that person in a machining job.”

Despite the nation’s high unemployment rate, attracting workers with machining skills has been difficult for small manufacturers. “Because of the recession, we’re all strapped financially,” Ms. Miller explains. “We need people who have math skills. Our equipment is very high-tech, so we can’t afford to hire someone who hasn’t had technical training.

“It is critical that new hires have the necessary math and safety skills to understand and operate the machines,” she adds. “There is so much more involved now than there was 10 years ago.”

Serving on the Jobs Council with Ms. Miller are some of the country’s top corporate leaders from GE, American Express and DuPont. After the council meeting with the President, the members were divided into sub-committees. Ms. Miller was asked to co-chair the High-tech Education Sub-committee with Intel’s CEO, Paul Otellini.

The group held meetings and brought in two of Minnesota’s technical schools—Dunwoody College of Technology and South Central College. The sub-committee was also able to elicit help from the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM); the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS); and American College Testing (ACT), the company that developed the testing for applicants. The program has also received funding from the Joyce Foundation.

“To make this work, there had to be a partnership between the business community, the technical schools and organizations like NAM, NIMS and ACT,” Ms. Miller emphasizes.

To be eligible for the program, applicants have to take ACT workforce development tests, which are geared towards the machining industry.
The three WorkKeys tests used are Reading for Information, Applied Mathematics, and Locating Information.  Each of these tests is scored from 1-7 points.  People who score at least 3 points on each of the 3 tests earn a Bronze-level National Career Readiness Certificate.  Scores of at least 4 earn the silver-level, 5 for gold, and people who achieve at least 6 points on each of the three tests earn a platinum-level NCRC. As Ms. Miller said, additional training is available for those who don’t score as high as they’d like to match the job skill requirements of the employers who use NCRC scores. If an individual doesn’t qualify for the program the first time, there are remedial classes available.

“Problem-solving is huge part of the curriculum,” Ms. Miller says. “There is a mix of both classroom learning and shop time. After 16 weeks, the student will intern at a manufacturing company for eight weeks.

“That person can stay with the company and continue his or her education in a specific field,” she adds. Some go into programming, Swiss machining or advanced CNC skills. Others may end up as operations managers, quality managers or even entrepreneurs.

We intend to replicate Right Skills Now nationally,” Ms. Miller sums up. “It’s not just for CNC machinists. It can be used for nearly any job skill. The program is so well-defined and accredited, it can be tweaked very easily to train anyone from welders to healthcare technicians.”


How Will Professional Tradesmen Jobs of the Future Be Filled?

June 22, 2011

There’s a lot of talk about manufacturing jobs continuing to go away in this country. But when I talk to manufacturers, one of the biggest issues they talk about domestically is finding qualified help. Apprentice programs for tool and die makers are shrinking due to lack of interest. Even factory production jobs aren’t menial labor jobs anymore. It takes skill and training to run CNC or other sophisticated machines.

The same is true with professional tradesmen in the contracting field. Talk to a plumbing or electrical contractor and they say the same thing. There aren’t enough young folks getting into those trades as well.

So what’s the problem? A good plumber or electrician can make a very good living and their jobs can’t be outsourced. I used to belong to a country club and next to doctors, contractors were the next biggest category of members! NJATC, IBEW and other trade associations and unions have training programs in place. Spokespeople like Mike Rowe has a passion to get more people into the trades. He’s even testified in Washington about the challenges that face us as a nation.

The same holds true in the manufacturing sector. There are good jobs for those that are trained properly. I know Skills for America’s Future and the Manufacturing Institute are trying to work with community colleges to develop successful programs so young folks can enter the workforce with skill sets necessary to get and keep a good job. Even President Obama is endorsing a manufacturing skills credentialing system and I hope it’s going to be more than window dressing.

The problem, in my opinion, is perception by young people that those kinds of jobs aren’t cool and they are low paying. Also most guidance counselors with most high schools are pointing everyone to college. Not everyone is 4-year college material. What young people don’t realize is that a plumber or  journeyman electrician makes more than 4-year college graduates and they don’t have all those student loans to pay off.

Our challenge as an industry is to somehow mount a campaign to kids at an early age to show them that these kinds of jobs are cool and just as important, if not more so, than someone sitting behind a desk. Ideall,y trade and manufacturing associations should come together and mount a public service campaign. Someone has to take the first step and we need someone visible enough to carry the message and credibility to the young folks.

I’d like to hear your thoughts on how we can secure the future for our kids.


Mike Rowe’s Trades Hub

April 19, 2011

Mike is pretty well-known from “Dirty Jobs.” You likely see him quite a bit on commercials these days, but lots of folks still don’t know about MikeRoweWorks.

Basically, Mike’s mission is to not make work the enemy. Our country seems to forget the value of hard work: we are ignoring infrastructure, we are getting rid of shop classes, etc. Mike explains what he’s trying to do here.

Mike started the Trades Hub. The way this site works is that it organizes the content in a way that makes it easier to go through and find things. It only shows snippets of any content and does a good job of pushing traffic out to participating bloggers.

It uses social signals, what people view and save, to help determine what the best content is. And it generally aims to attract an audience that may not otherwise find each individual blogger. It is going to be a fantastic resource.

You’ll find a link on my side bar to the right and I was asked to be a regular contributor to the site which I was very happy to do. So check it out and let’s keep America working with the professional tradesman.


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