Technical education needed to fill high-demand jobs of tomorrow

By From page A6 | February 05, 2014

By Roger Speer

Many complex problems are holding back the California economy. And one of the biggest reasons is the state’s shortage of highly skilled workers.

The Society of Manufacturing Engineers predicts that, given the rates of retirement of current highly skilled workers and the rebound of the manufacturing sector, the shortfall of skilled workers nationwide could increase to nearly 3 million jobs by 2015.

In California and nationwide, there are far too many young adults in the 18- to 24-year-old age bracket who possess no post-high school education that might help forge a career path. Many of these individuals are employed in low-wage jobs that offer limited career paths and economic opportunity.

How are we going to fill this sizable gap in available workers? Traditional, college-educated young people aren’t the only answer. One of our most urgent educational needs right now is high-level, high-quality technical education.

We need welders, electricians, machinists, industrial engineers, industrial machinery mechanics and 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.

But the lingering question remains: Where will we get these much-needed, well-trained technical workers?

We have traditionally relied on our community college system as the primary source of tradesmen and women. Despite a strong system of community colleges in California, there still are not enough well-trained workers.

A recent forum convened by NextEd, the Sacramento region’s premier employer-education partnership, highlighted this skills gap, with employers urging educators to focus on the skills needed to fuel our region’s economy.

In the past, these technical jobs were widely available to people without postsecondary education. But times have changed. With computer-based technologies at the heart of modern industry, employers are seeking workers with more advanced training.

For example, in today’s job market, auto technicians need more than mechanical ability in their skills toolbox. From working on internal combustion engines to running computer-controlled diagnostic tests, science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills (often referred to as STEM) are at the core of what these workers do.

Not only does a skills-based education prepare students for immediate entry into a career, a credentialed school also leverages its manufacturer relationships to assist students in their job search.

With many lamenting the shrinking American middle class, it’s critical to address the realities of the 21st century workforce.

But let’s also recognize that degrees come in different packages. Students should explore all options for succeeding in the high-demand jobs of tomorrow. In some cases, that means looking at nontraditional education options.

— Roger Speer is the president of the Northern California campus of Universal Technical Institute in Sacramento. For more information, visit www.uti.edu/sacramento.

Special to The Enterprise

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