The National Center for Education Statistics estimates that by the time you read this article, more than 3.5 million young adults will have graduated high school. The site also estimates that 68.4 percent of those students will attend a four-year university or college immediately after graduation. But what about those interested in pursuing a career in the trades? These jobs don’t require four-year university degrees, and skilled labor jobs pay respectable wages. Payscale.com reports plumbing professionals make up to $92,000 annually. This is a great deal of an income with one problem: the image.
On a recent networking trip to Houston, I met with the Dean of Houston Community College’s Advanced Manufacturing Center of Excellence, Frederick Heard. I was fortunate enough to visit the campus the next day to learn more about the center and their efforts to narrow the ever-growing trade job gap.
Upon entering through the main doors at AM COE, that finished construction in 2016, you’re greeted by a spacious, clean and welcoming lobby. Straight ahead are training centers with windows to look through. The first training facility houses CNC and manual machines where students learn the basics and intricacies for a career as a machinist. Turn to your right and down the corridors are other training facilities fully equipped with electrical, welding, plumbing, digital and HVAC/r equipment. It’s truly a center of excellence and that beams from everyone we met on our visit.
What trade job gap, you ask? Below are some statistics by an analysis done by Deloitte based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and Gallop Survey.
My first question upon seeing these numbers was, “Why such a gap and a shortage of skilled labor?” The answers vary, but the main explanation falls to an image problem the trade industry faces. The image is of one who works in a “dirty” job. Plumbing, HVAC/r, welding, electric — these jobs are not for the faint of heart, but they’ve always been like that. It’s not like this happened overnight. Tom Tynan heads the welding department at AM COE, explains how the biggest competition to trade education is the iPhone.
“Some students can’t do the proper math needed to pass the course without their iPhone,” he says. The age range of the students at the center range from 25-55, with many of them being of Hispanic decent.
A 2011 report, “The Skills Gap in U.S. Manufacturing” conducted by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, estimated that by 2015 as many as 600,000 jobs would unfilled in the U.S. manufacturing sector alone. Over the next decade, nearly 3.4 million manufacturing jobs will be needed, and more than two million are expected to go unfilled due to the skills gap. The demand for these jobs is being caused by the retirement of more than 2.7 million baby boomers, changing skills required because of technological advancements, demographics changes, policies and priorities, culture, and the fact that today’s students often choose their field of study based on personal interest, rather than labor market information.
No other place is this shortage more critical than in Houston.
“Our city has been named the best city in America for manufacturing by Forbes Magazine the country’s leading business and financial magazine” says Heard.
The Houston region is one of the most important industrial bases in the world. Many of the region’s largest manufacturers, in terms of employment, are connected to the oil, gas and petrochemical sectors. As a top-manufacturing city, Houston has more than 10,000 manufacturers who employ more than a quarter of a million skilled workers in the production of plastics, rubber, metals, medical devices, valve, fittings, food processing, steel products and biotech.
The HCC COE AM plays a critical role in the development of a skilled labor force to help sustain our local economy and help meet the skills gap, through the development of a new pipeline of talent, incumbent worker training and specialized organizational training needs.
Since 1971, the Advanced Manufacturing Center of Excellence provides training and education opportunities for traditional and non-traditional students interested in entering the machining and manufacturing engineering technology fields. Students are sometimes entering for the first time, or are under skilled/unemployed. These types of students, as Heard explains, “are looking for a career change.” The center also provides services to employers, too. It acts as a venue for local companies to design and deliver incumbent worker training. In addition to this opportunity, the center provides a pool of candidates for future employment.
Through relevant and realistic hands-on applied techniques, the Machine Technology and Manufacturing Engineering programs prepare HCC’s students for the rigors and expectations of the manufacturing industry. The Machining Technology program is designed to meet industry standards and prepares students for employment in machine shops, manufacturing facilities and in industrial plants. The HCC Associate of Applied Science degree in Machining Technology trains competent technicians for employment in the machine shop industry and related occupations.
Similarly, the Manufacturing Engineering Technology program is designed to prepare the manufacturing engineer technologist to focus on turning raw materials into a new or updated product in the most economic, efficient and effective way possible. The HCC Associate of Applied Science degree in Manufacturing Engineering Technology trains competent technicians for employment within the manufacturing industry and related occupations.
As well as learning through realistic hands-on instruction, the manufacturing programs are training a Certified Workforce complimenting education with industry relevant certifications. The HCC Advanced Manufacturing Center of Excellence pursues industry partnerships as well as standards adherence and oversight through organizations such as OSHA, the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS), and SolidWorks to provide realistic industry related training and credentialing to ensure program relevancy to meet the Houston area manufacturing community trends and needs.
Through HCC AM COE programs among other skills, students learn how to operate manual lathes and mills; lean manufacturing techniques and theories; how to write G-Code; hydraulic and pneumatic principles; the use of precision tools in measurement; how to read prints; and CAD/CAM software.
But what about this image issue? Tynan mentions for every three electricians retiring, only one is replacing those jobs. “[This center] is an asset to the industry.” And indeed with all the learning opportunities and a lucrative future, students can maintain a career in the trades. This center is re-igniting the push for trade jobs. Not only in our industry but also in our society.
Potential and current students can learn more about the Advanced Manufacturing Center of Excellence and apply at www.hccs.edu/manufacturing.