The mantra is simple: if you want a job in this economy, get a four-year college degree. And look anywhere -- everywhere -- but manufacturing. The mantra is wrong.

    Vo-tech and apprenticeships are still the path many are taking to the job market -- bypassing the four-year college route. The difference from the old days of going straight from high school to work is three-fold, though. The jobs are increasingly technical, increasingly competitive and increasingly likely to be in the trades and in government work, rather than on the factory floor.



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     The mantra is simple: if you want a job in this economy, get a four-year college degree. And look anywhere -- everywhere -- but manufacturing. The mantra is wrong.

    Vo-tech and apprenticeships are still the path many are taking to the job market -- bypassing the four-year college route. The difference from the old days of going straight from high school to work is three-fold, though. The jobs are increasingly technical, increasingly competitive and increasingly likely to be in the trades and in government work, rather than on the factory floor.

     Even in this worst of times, a college degree is no guarantee of a job. And the lack of one is not a barrier to a job.
         Jobs in manufacturing are going begging, according to Greg Krisman, marketing director for the northeast Ohio manufacturing advocacy group known as Magnet.
         There are a number of people with manufacturing who have been employed in northeast Ohio for 25, 30, sometimes 35 years," Krisman said. "A lot of those folks are reaching retirement age and they can't find folks to replace some of those people."
         Christine Kurth hears the same thing. She coordinates programs at the Medina County Career Center, a career-tech high school.
         "We hear from the employers that their machinists are starting to retire and there's not qualified young people to go into that area."
        So, while the career-tech programs are emphasizing what they see as growth industries such as diversified health and optical technology, Kurth predicts training in high-tech manufacturing skills will grow in importance.
Non-traditional high schools
         Career-tech is the evolution of what began as vocational education in Ohio high schools in the 1970. The program has grown to hundreds of job training specialties ranging from welding to Web design to public safety.
         Brad Turner is a junior at Medina studying public safety. By the time he graduates, he figures he'll have his full fire-fighting certification, his basic EMT certification, and a full year of college credit toward his nursing degree. He'll also know how to drive a fire truck. And he has a career plan.
        "About a year or so after I get a little practice in the field, I want to get my paramedic card. And then once I go for my paramedic, I want to take some transfer classes and probably about two years, I'll transfer from paramedic to a nurse and go into emergency room nursing."
Turner's plans to follow up his high school career-tech training with college is not unusual. Many tech-trained kids see at least an associates degree as their next step.
A new path to, and for, college
         And Ohio is reworking its community and technical college system to better accommodate workforce training that requires less than a four-year degree and in some cases, less than an associate's degree. Sen. Sherrod Brown was pushing his plan yesterday at Kent State's Trumbull campus to direct federal money into such efforts.
         Tony Dennis of Buy Ohio says such training is a huge sell for employers because they don't lose millions of dollars in productivity while they're training workers.
         "If what we can pre-train these people to the right certification levels, they can literally cut three months off their pre-training program," Dennis said.
        That's not to suggest traditional apprenticeship training programs are going out of business.
         Larry McManamon Jr. runs one of the trades' apprenticeship programs that Ohio promotes as the "other" four-year college. He's the head of the Great Lakes Area Boilermakers program. It takes four years, about 500 hours of classroom training and a strong back.
         "Some apprentices are out on big jobs where they're building a nuclear power plant and they're setting a reactor dome that might weigh 200 tons," McManamon said. "Working with large cranes, these massive vessels that you work with, ... it's a very rewarding craft."
         McManamon acknowledges the bad economy has hit boilermakers, cutting business by about 20 percent " primarily because of cutbacks at steel mills. But he says the trades are generally faring better than many manufacturers. So the boilermakers are still taking on apprentices to the tune of about one for every five journeymen, and at a pay of $21 an hour plus full benefits.
         The program has about 2,000 applicants in Ohio for about 150 positions. And McManamon says all those applicants are not created equal. In the world of boilermaking these days, welding counts.
         "When an employer calls a union hall for people, they want the person who can do it all and that's the high-pressure welder," he said. "They used to call for X number of mechanics and you know, just bodies basically to come on the job and work. But now they want the best. So experience counts. But not always.
A boom business
         But not always. Jinu Hwang is vice president of Kaeper Machine, " a small precision machine shop his father started a dozen years ago. The shop has carved out a specialty in defense, and makes parts for machine guns. Military work is steady right now.
         Jinu Hwang acknowledges concern about the economy, but said, "Right now we're just too busy to worry too much about it."          That's why, when a handful of employees went for better paying seasonal jobs in construction and landscaping, the company couldn't even consider leaving the positions vacant.
         Hwang posted the openings on Craig's list. That was at 11:15 on a Monday morning. Within 15 minutes, Hwang had four applicants. Two days later, more than 50. They included people with years of machining experience, who as little as a year ago may have turned up their noses at the $9 to $12 an hour starting wage " even with partially paid healthcare.
         But Hwang says experience isn't what he's looking for.
         "Reliability is what we look for. And obviously we look for intelligent people that can learn what we're teaching them. Just people with potential as well."
        Frank Meyers looks out over the northeast Ohio high school kids constructing test walls in a career-tech regional skills competition. And he sees nothing but potential. He oversees the construction trades program for Akron schools. He acknowledges the field is a bit soft now. But predicts economic stimulus money will begin arriving soon, and his kids will be ready.
         "Although the job market is slow right now, the skills they've learned will last a lifetime. It will pick up," he predicted. "You want me to sit there and tell you these kids are all going to go to work right after graduation? In this market probably not.
         "But I think, as educators, that we know they have studied and they have prepared and they'll be ready to enter in the workforce when that moment comes."

Resources

Ohio apprenticeship programs

Kaeper Machine

Boilermakers apprenticeships

Career-Tech in Ohio, by the numbers

Sherrod Brown's explantion of his bill for workforce training


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In a recent broadcast of "good jobs in hard times" you mentioned the shortage of some skilled workers for "good" jobs that paid $9/hour. I beg to differ with your choice to call them "good" jobs. At 40 hours a week and 52 weeks/year, this "good" job earns $23,4000/year. That wage is about 2/3 of the average earnings (reported in this Sunday's Parade Magazine) of $31,876. I would assume a "good" job is at least the level of average earnings. Furthermore, that "good" job barely pays over the US Health and Human Services' poverty level for a family of 4 ($22,050)! Do we consider jobs "good" if they are near the poverty level? Or do we expect people with "good" jobs to be for only single people with no dependents? It is no wonder that those employers can't find skilled workers when they pay at such a low wage. Even though they offered benefits, which are very valuable,it doesn't make up for the lack of "good" pay.


Posted by: Anonymous on April 16, 2009 10:19AM