Blue-collar industries in the U.S. are facing a mas- sive skills shortage. The National Association of Manufacturers predicts 2 million job vacancies nationwide by 2025, while the American Welding Society forecasts a shortfall
of 300,000 welders and welding instructors in the
manufacturing industry by 2020.
Community colleges are attempting to bridge
America's widening blue-collar skills gap through
workforce development programs promising liv-ing-wage jobs that don't require four years of college.
While trade, construction and manufacturing companies are starving for talented workers, these fields
also suffer from an image problem, one fueled by
societal stigmas of low wages, dirty conditions and
Overcoming such stereotypes is part of the package for two-year colleges marketing their workforce
programming to potential participants.
GETTING THE WORD OUT
Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical
College is one college pushing against beliefs that
the only path to a rewarding career is a four-year
college degree and a "glamorous" job in finance, law
Eastern's 75-hour welding training course accommodates all experience levels, introducing learners
to basic welding processes and cutting operations,
with higher level classes teaching advanced methods for application on different types of metals.
The four-level course is tailored to each student's
skill set, preparing them for the performance-based
American Welding Society (AWS) equivalency and a
future in a lucrative job market.
"We provide a certificate of completion whether
or not students take the equivalency exam," says
program director Melissa Shockey. "The exam shows
local employers that this student is coming out with
a level of expected welding skills to be a technician.
It gives them a leg up when applying for work."
Those entering the welding workforce start
with an average salary between $12 to $28 an hour,
Eastern's outreach efforts in these areas include
debunking manufacturing myths of being dan-
gerous, dead-end jobs for people with no other
employment options. The college hired community
college marketing firm 25th Hour Communications
to create print and social media ads that champion
welding as a well-paying career, not just a stop-gap
job. Marketing materials emphasize a rapid train-
ing-to-workforce pathway where both men and
women can obtain profitable employment outside of
the four-year college system.
Future ads will showcase manufacturing floors as
clean, brightly lit and up to the latest safety standards.
Program proponents also spearhead regional
meetings to speak with employers on their hiring
needs, and put accredited students on a registry list
for interested companies to peruse.
"The stigma (about blue-collar work) has done
all the skill trades a disservice," LaVorgna says.
"But young folks joining the trades are creating a
wonderful life in clean jobs that pay well. It's about
getting the word out there, fighting stereotypes and
promoting good, high-paying jobs here at home.
Our demographic wants to live here, work here and
provide for their families."
CLEARING UP AN INDUSTRY'S CLOUDY OPTICS
A program out of California seeks to introduce
young people to manufacturing even before they
graduate high school. Flex Factor is a dual enrollment advanced manufacturing initiative that has
grown from eight students to more than 2,000 in the
12 months since it was introduced.
Evergreen Valley College partnered with Flex
Factor designer NextFlex to introduce high school