Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Hail to the Welders

There's no question the education paradigm is shifting in the U.S., moving away from elite four-year college degrees and toward practical training to land jobs. Two-year community colleges and trade schools are on the rise.

We see that locally, with the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce fingering a shortage of vocational workers as a pressing issue for local businesses, so much so that $15 million for a new technical training center is included on the must-have list for the proposed 1% local sales tax. Arthrex's siting of a new production center in South Carolina, where vocational workers are more plentiful, underscores the need.

Where we have the students but not enough schools in which to train them, other states have the trade schools but not enough students to fill them. In the Midwest, for example, there has been an outflow of 1.3 million people since 2010, leading to an acute shortage of trainable workers. Welders in particular are in short supply.

One solution has been to seek older students, adults with minimal education or those displaced by technology. The Wall Street Journal reports that nearly 37 million adults in the U.S. have some college credit but no degree, and millions more are hoping to kick-start their careers with professional certification. Beth Townsend, head of Iowa's department of workforce development, is quoted as saying, "We've got a lot of adults who could be easily upskilled." Of 18 million students now in college, 38% of them are over the age of 24.

Another approach is at-work training. AT&T is investing hundreds of millions to educate workers by a mix of classes and hands-on training. An increasing number of Fortune 500 companies are focusing on skills over degrees and still struggling to find takers. A bump in H-2B visas, sought by the Trump Administration, could help ease the shortage.

In terms of education cost,  two-year schools unquestionably offer the best employment bang for the buck. Total costs averaging under $18,000 per year compare favorably with $40,000 to $60,000 for four-year colleges, and the debt load is much less.

What's the bottom line? Employers want relevant skills, not a fancy degree. To that end, trade school may be the best best. No longer the ugly duckling of American education, technical training is not only acceptable, but essential and one of the best ways to ensure well-paid employment.

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