America's Youth Reconsiders Skilled Trades

Despite the nation's current weak job market, the demand for workers qualified to perform many skilled labor jobs continues to grow, leading to forecasts of severe shortages in some fields as more and more baby boomers retire.

A recent poll of 40,000 employers worldwide by Manpower Inc. showed that employers in the U.S. and 13 other countries named skilled trades as the No. 1 occupation in the "difficulty of filling jobs due to the lack of talent."

The shortage in the U.S. has developed largely because the apprenticeship programs that once existed in many fields to train young workers have disappeared. In addition to other factors, the rising cost of labor and the high mobility of the American workforce are often cited as reasons for the decline in apprenticeship training.

To fill the need for training, high schools nationwide developed career and technical education (CTE) programs -- what used to be known as vocational training. High schools that offer CTE are divided into three types: those that rely on a separate, regional school to offer career and technical courses; high schools that provide their own CTE program; and dedicated CTE schools, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Graduating To A Good Job

Nearly half (47 percent) of the nation's public high schools rely on an area school to provide career and technical training. They include Tonawanda High School in suburban Buffalo, N.Y., where senior Nick Mangano (pictured above) is currently enrolled in the welding program at Erie 1 BOCES, one of 37 Boards of Cooperative Educational Services in New York state that offer CTE programs to surrounding school districts.

Mangano, 17, says that he was motivated by a desire to begin working in a good job right after graduating. "I wanted something out of high school that was better than a fast food place," he says. "So I thought welding would be a good way to go."

Just about anyone can weld, Mangano tells AOL Jobs, though the craft does require some math aptitude to aid in reading blueprints and perform conversions and measurements. Mangano does pretty well in math, earning A's and B's, he says.

Mangano, who will graduate next spring, already has a job lined up, working for a local firm that fashions bridge expansion joints and other large industrial pieces.

Richard Rakowski, Mangano's welding teacher at BOCES, has worked in the industry for years and says that experience enables him to tell students what to expect in the "real world."

The American Welding Society, a trade organization, forecasts a shortage in the U.S. of some 250,000 welders during the next 10 years. "So the opportunities are there," Rakowski says. And since welding is a universal profession, he says, "You can go anyplace with your skills."

Most job opportunities for welders today are in manufacturing, but there are also some jobs in construction. First and foremost, Rakowski says, a successful welding career requires a desire to be a welder.

Motivated To Learn

In addition to offering programs to high school students, BOCES also provides continuing adult education courses throughout the state. Programs geared toward adults have grown in recent years as the economy has shed workers, says Melody Jason, co-director of secondary and workforce development at BOCES.

Often, well-motivated, adult students are keen on one-year programs that allow them to get an education quickly and find a job, Jason says. "They want in and they want out, and they want to be working."

One such student is 19-year-old John Kroll, who graduated from Alden High School in Alden, N.Y., last year. Kroll recently completed a two-year program to become an electrician, a field he wanted to pursue since his early teens.

It was at that time when Kroll began tagging along on jobs with his uncle, an electrician. Fascinated by the work, Kroll decided then that he wanted to follow that trade.

Traditionally, students enrolling in two-year CTE programs at BOCES begin their studies in the junior year. But, Kroll says, "I had other classes I really wanted to take in high school." That meant completing the first year of training as a senior.

After graduating, Kroll decided to resume his training, largely because he couldn't get work through the local electricians union without either more work experience or additional schooling.

So he returned to the program about a year ago as an adult student.

Having completed his training in June, Kroll now works for a local electrical contractor in nearby Cheektowaga. Much of the work he does day in and day out is pretty typical, he says, pulling wires, installing light fixtures and roughing in electrical boxes.

But there is satisfaction in seeing a job come to completion.

"Everyday I wake up and I always enjoy going to work, because I know it's something I want to do," Kroll says. "I have fun with it daily."

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