Opinion

Vocational training key to skilled workforce, economic health

An apprentice engineer uses a milling machine at a training facility. (Photo: Monkey Business Images, via Shutterstock)

As the uneven economy recovery continues in California, there is one area where jobs remain available: technical workers.

Workers with vocational training are currently in demand. The hardest segment of the workforce to replace has been the skilled trades, due to a shortage caused by the exodus of highly-skilled baby boomers that are entering retirement.

There’s no hiding the fact that the state needs welders, electricians, machinists, industrial engineers, industrial machinery mechanics, collision repair, automotive and diesel technicians.

So where will we find these workers? There are many young adults in the 18- to 24-year-old age bracket that possess no post-high school education. Many of these individuals are either unemployed or have low-paying jobs that offer limited career paths.

While the national unemployment rate has fallen from 10 percent to 5.5 percent since the country entered recession in 2008, youth unemployment has remained stubbornly high, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

As a state and a nation, we must find a solution to give these young adults some hope and guidance in locating a career path that could lead to prosperity. This need comes at a time when California is considering a move to decrease its funding of career technical education for high schools.

But there’s no hiding the fact that the state needs welders, electricians, machinists, industrial engineers, industrial machinery mechanics, collision repair, automotive and diesel technicians. These trained workers will help strengthen the backbone of our economy’s infrastructure and could be part of the solution in powering our economy back to global leadership.

For example, in the transportation sector the nation will need an estimated 37,000 skilled service technicians each year between now and 2020. The average annual wages range from $35,000 to $54,999. And there is also opportunity for personal growth due to the need for service managers and service directors.

To fill these jobs, students need a hands-on, high-tech and industry-specific education that matches their talents and gives them the specific skills they need to go to work – the kind of training that often is not available in traditional academic settings.

A focus of technical training is STEM education (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), which is incorporated into vocational training at high school CTE programs, community colleges and career schools throughout the state.

Today’s automobiles, trucks, motorcycles and boats all are designed using advanced STEM principles.

Auto technicians rely on more than just their tool box to repair vehicles. They look at computer screens and utilize their STEM training to diagnose and fix the many complex digital systems that keep today’s vehicles running.

STEM education is also being used in the training of engineers and technicians for work in industry, construction, communications, agriculture, and forestry. The preparation of skilled workers for the national economy is carried out within the system of vocational-technical education.

Our nation faces a historically high number of young adults without a career – and the solution to this problem doesn’t always involve traditional college experience.

We must better recognize, value and support all our students, and a wide variety of educational and career paths, giving stature not just to college graduates but also to the hands-on workers who keep our country running.

Ed’s Note: Roger Speer is regional vice president of operations of Universal Technical Institute, overseeing the Sacramento campus.  For more information, visit www.uti.edu/sacramento.


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