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'Skills gap' may hold key to filling jobs of the future

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Posted: Tuesday, November 27, 2012 4:00 pm

For Jessie McGowan it was gardening with her mother. For Alex Pierce it was about finding stable work.

Both recently started over in their careers, and decided to get their welding certificate at Blackhawk Technical College. Without knowing it, both were entering into an industry that is desperate for qualified workers. So desperate that the amount of welding jobs outweighs the number of trained potential employees, and has created a noticeable “skills gap” in not just welding, but other manufacturing jobs and health care positions.

“When we are talking about a skills gap we’re talking about the jobs that are going unfilled because they require technical expertise that people don’t normally have,” Blackhawk Technical College President Tom Eckert said.

Technology and an aging workforce combined to form the gap, and one that educators and employers saw coming, Eckert said.

“We saw it rushing at us in 2006 and 2007,” Eckert said. “We saw that companies had to modernize and become more efficient by having smart systems in order to compete internationally, and we knew those jobs would be more technical than normal.”

As the baby boomers start to retire, more health care professionals will be needed to take care of that aging portion of the population, Eckert said.

From day one both McGowan, 34, and Pierce, 35, said the college emphasized the need for welders and the change in the welding industry.

“I didn’t know there was such a call for welders,” said McGowan, who is in her first semester of the welding program.

She worked in administrative positions for around 10 years until she tried to climb the corporate ladder. She had earned an associates degree in science at Madison Area Technical College (MATC), but without a bachelor’s degree she found out she couldn’t climb very high.

“I was striving over the summer trying to decide which direction to take,” she said. “Go back and try to finish by wildlife ecology degree, or just take a different route altogether.”

She also considered going back into administrative work, but she didn’t like “sitting in a cubicle.”

She was gardening with her mother over the summer when it struck her that she’d like to learn how to weld. She described it as a “light bulb moment.”

Pierce found inspiration from his younger brother, who is also a welder. He had been working on oil rigs for a number of years in Arizona, but the work proved to be unstable.

“As the price of oil went up and down they would lay people off and then hire them back,” he said.

He heard about the welding program at MATC, but it had filled before he was accepted. He eventually was accepted into the welding program at BTC in January, and will take his certification test this semester.

The welding program has grown substantially over the last few semesters at BTC. So much so that welding classes start around 6:30 every morning and don’t end until after 10 every night.

Eventually, Eckert said they would like to build a high-tech manufacturing training facility in Beloit and double the amount of welding students. Plans for the facility are still in the works as the college tries to raise the funds.

Plans to build the facility at the Ironworks Building in the city were stalled because the college couldn’t afford renovations on top of the lease from Hendricks Commercial Properties, which owns the property. The hope is to find and open a facility by 2014, Eckert said.

Another side to the skills gap is what the employer is looking for in an employee. Randall Upton, president of the Greater Beloit Chamber of Commerce, said there has been a focus on the individual and not on the employer.

“We’re trying to reverse that in terms of what they need from employees,” he said.

GBCC is working with the Southwest Wisconsin Workforce Development to put a study together for a possible solution.

“What that solution is, we don’t know right now,” Upton said.

Bob Borremans, executive director of the workforce development, said the subject isn’t easy to tackle because there are a variety of reasons for the gap. Not to mention there’s no real way to measure how large the gap is, but they know it’s substantial.

“First of all anecdotally from hearing stories from employers; they aren’t finding workers with the skills they need,” he said. “But it doesn’t define what skills are lacking or missing.”

The next step is sitting down with the employers and identifying specifically what they were looking for in an employee. Borremans said one skill was lacking over all the industries from manufacturing to health care: employability.

“What it means to be a good employee,” he said. “We’re finding that a lot of the basic academics, from problem solving to math skills, those types of skills are sorely missing.”

Advancing technology with less hands-on and more working with robotic machines is one contributing factor, Borremans said. Increasing technology means that employees need to be able to work with different computer skills, something that hasn’t been apart of manufacturing curriculum before.

One solution some programs are taking is a “career pathway” course.

“Under the career pathway you identify what specific skills that an employer needs and you train for that specific skill,” Borremans said.

For example, whereas in the past welding classes would teach eight or nine different types of welds, a career pathway would teach one or two different types of welds.

“If they like welding then the employer can train them in the other types,” he said.

It’s a way to speed up the training process and fill in the needs more quickly than in the past. Another solution employers are looking at is giving jobs to immigrants that are more highly skilled.

“There are going be thousands of jobs that need to be replaced and we aren’t going to get that over the next 20 years. We might have to import people to fill those positions,” Borremans said. “There’s no easy solution to this.”

McGowan has one more semester left before getting her certificate and the decision waits for her future. She said she would like to work somewhere that allows her a hands-on approach.

Pierce has been hired as a welder in Darien. His employer has worked around his school schedule, and he is set to take his certification test later this semester. After he’s gained enough experience he wants to become certified welding inspector.

“When you get that CWI certificate you know you’ve accomplished something,” he said.

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  • zumby143 posted at 5:01 am on Thu, Jul 24, 2014.

    zumby143 Posts: 5

    Workforce arranging is a ceaseless procedure used to adjust the needs and necessities of the association with those of its workforce to guarantee it can reach its authoritative, administrative, administration and creation prerequisites and hierarchical goals.
    online video translation

  • dallas bob posted at 5:14 pm on Wed, Nov 28, 2012.

    dallas bob Posts: 18

    sorry 51 but i don't think companies can afford to hire some one and find the job that fits for them with in the company.that is how alot of these companies ended up with workers only wanting to do what they wanted to do.i still believe in an honest days work for an honest days pay.besides it's their company and we all have to follow the rules

  • lilmonster posted at 4:17 pm on Wed, Nov 28, 2012.

    lilmonster Posts: 1136

    "Laughable. Learning tricks of the welding trade from a youtube video. Get real. Welding is a skilled job that takes practice."

    No doubt welding takes skill and lots of practice. But if you have never welded before and know nothing about welding youtube is a good place to start learning. Keep in mind he said he has no resources and lacks money for classes. I notice you didn't offer any other suggestions.

    I'm not a mechanic but watched a youtube video on how to tear open my dash and get a headlight switch out. Worked like a charm. I use youtube daily to learn new skills. I work with wood and love watching guys like charlies neil and the woodwhisper on youtube. Youtube is a great resource. I even once used it to help read the results of an mri before the doctor called me back. I knew what the doctor was going to tell me before he even called me back.

    For someone looking to learn about welding how about this clip? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6eB9qnktmDI

    When I was young and fresh out of school no one would hire me to frame houses. Finally I told a guy i haven't worked construction before but I can read a tape and I know the difference between a 2 x 4 and a 2 x 6. He changed his mind and hired me as a grunt. When you are out of options anything you know helps. I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss youtube as laughable. The fact he wanted to learn so bad he watched youtube videos may be enough to get him hired. You never know.

  • FaceTheFacts posted at 3:24 pm on Wed, Nov 28, 2012.

    FaceTheFacts Posts: 327

    Did everybody miss this maybe? From Bob Borreamans 'quote"

    re: “What it means to be a good employee,” he said. “We’re finding that a lot of the basic academics, from problem solving to math skills, those types of skills are sorely missing.”

    Right there? and coming from "the horse itself aka a Government entity = executive director of the workforce development

    Maybe Bob should take this to the "school system" maybe? I am reading a "reflection" of blame here for the area, but can't be..as according to everyone that is associated with the local school system, there are no issues.

    Wonder why BOB has them?


    Facing The Facts [thumbup]

  • js20094 posted at 1:52 pm on Wed, Nov 28, 2012.

    js20094 Posts: 1106

    Laughable. Learning tricks of the welding trade from a youtube video. Get real. Welding is a skilled job that takes practice.

  • JasonSprenger posted at 8:58 am on Wed, Nov 28, 2012.

    JasonSprenger Posts: 3

    Skills gaps are emerging in the economy today, and one major way to curb them is to invest in career and technical education (CTE). CTE has proven to deliver many benefits, including improved student achievement and career/earning prospects, more community vitality and more qualified workers for the jobs of today. When businesses work with educators, CTE programs are especially effective.

    The Industry Workforce Needs Council is a new group of businesses working together to spotlight skills gaps and advocate for CTE as a means of bridging them. For more information on the IWNC, or to join the effort, visit http://www.iwnc.org.

    Jason Sprenger, for the IWNC

  • beloit51 posted at 6:33 am on Wed, Nov 28, 2012.

    beloit51 Posts: 1639

    In my (dinasour) time one applied at a "shop",got their foot in the door and worked one's way up by doing the origional job hired for,sign up for other,better position's.This is Pulling one's bootstrap's up.On the job training was a staple of workforce.IF you could not "handle" a position you were placed elsewhere in company for management knew you TRIED,want to succeed,be an asset to company,now the "New Norm" is Fire,Hire someone else,repeat process until "right fit" is in place.All about QUANITY,Not quality any longer.

    "Your Humble Servant".

  • lilmonster posted at 8:35 pm on Tue, Nov 27, 2012.

    lilmonster Posts: 1136

    beloit, it's called pulling yourself up by your bootstraps! That is what your boy Mitt did. If you can't afford schooling ask your mom or dad for a loan. Welcome to Mitt's america my friend.

    In all seriousness all you have to do is pass a welding test to get a welding job. A welding lesson would cost you a 12 pack at any small shop in the beloit area. You can jump on youtube and different message boards to learn the tricks of the trade. You could also offer to apprentice at a welding shop for some on the job training. It isn't that hard. Much easier then pulling oneself up by their bootstraps. [beam]

  • dallas bob posted at 5:35 pm on Tue, Nov 27, 2012.

    dallas bob Posts: 18

    i disagree there are several jobs in beloit that require hard physical labor that can't be taught in any class.there is also money available through student loans for those wanting to start off in debt.

  • Mike_Zoril posted at 5:30 pm on Tue, Nov 27, 2012.

    Mike_Zoril Posts: 2729

    There are two points not mentioned in this article.

    1. Why does the skills gap exist? This is largely caused by the government tinkering around in the education industry and destroying the forces of capitalism. For example, the BMHS grad going to college next summer will get the same amount of financial aid regardless if he decides to study engineering or psychology. The demand (pay) for engineers is huge whereas the opposite is true for psych majors. The government uses taxpayer dollars to distort the supply/demand signal and ends up directing students into the wrong majors.

    If a student wanted to study psych and take on $100k in college loans to do it even though the average psych grad only makes low $30's out of college, no respectable bank would make that loan. It would return the supply/demand of psych majors to a more normal level and those that did decide to pursue that career option (although it would have to be far fewer of them) might even make more money than they otherwise would without the government loans.

    2. Even if there is a skills gap in the Beloit area, that is not stopping employers from hiring-in from other areas. I moved about 50 miles to come to Beloit for a job. Why can't welding companies hire from other areas? They can - assuming they pay enough money to attract those employees. In fact, even if you train skilled welders in Beloit, if the local companies aren't paying enough, they will just move somewhere else to be a welder - and then it continues to look like a skills gap - but the problem is that the people who obtain those skills move away from Beloit as soon as they get those skills.

  • beloit51 posted at 4:59 pm on Tue, Nov 27, 2012.

    beloit51 Posts: 1639

    On the job training is no longer an option,unfortunately not all can afford,aquire grant's to attend Tech school.What suggestion is for the go getter's who lack money,resource's to advance their career's?

    "Your Humble Servant".


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