Shop Class Revisited: Skilled Vocational Training in Vogue

By Dave Winzelberg  |  Aug 10, 2012

States are trying to train a new generation of workers to fill open industry jobs in skilled trades.

Ever wonder why you can't get a plumber when you really need one?

For the last few years, the hardest jobs for employers to fill have been for skilled trades. More than a third of all employers globally are facing a shortage of skilled workers, according to an annual survey by Milwaukee-based Manpower Group.

The top two reasons: Employers surveyed blamed a lack of applicants and a lack of "technical competencies/hard skills"—especially when it comes to industry-specific qualifications in both professional and skilled trades categories.

But lately, many states and localities have committed new resources to bolster trades education programs.

The Texas Workforce Commission has urged that a new emphasis be placed on skilled trades in the state's public schools because teaching skilled trades, such as welding, pipefitting and electrical work, could trim the dropout rate by giving students a chance to train for a good-paying job.

In Jackson, Mich., the Society of Manufacturing Engineers recently gave a $25,000 grant to theShop Rat Foundation, which supports efforts to expand skilled trades education in that city.

One of its most popular is the Shop Rat Education Program that reaches more than 275 students within the Jackson County-area every year, offering classes, workshops and special events. The after-school class teaches local sixth- through 10th-grade students how to build hydraulic robots and solar-powered model cars, while they learn to use machinery and tools safely.

Georgia's Office of Workforce Development has launched an initiative called Go Build Georgia, promoting opportunities in skilled trades that targets high school counselors, teachers, students and parents.

Tricia Pridemore, who spearheads the campaign, said half of all skilled trade workers in the state are between the ages of 47 and 65. She said while unemployment in Georgia eclipsed 9 percent, plenty of companies have openings they can't fill.

"We want to reset the dialogue, to make sure students and parents realized the opportunities that are there," Pridemore said.

JAMES O'BRIEN - James O'Brien is a correspondent for The Boston Globe and Boston University's Research magazine. He blogs for clients on topics that range from music, art, and culture to business, investing, and personal finance. He holds a Ph.D. in Editorial Studies from the Editorial Institute at Boston University.

This article originally appeared on The Atlantic Online as part of the Investing In A Better Tomorrow program.

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