Trade schools working to meet growing demand for skilled labor - - Columbia, South Carolina |

Trade schools working to meet growing demand for skilled labor

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A culture of encouraging kids to get a college education is starting to have an effect on other industries. An October 2012 report by Forbes says a worker shortage in skilled trades makes it the most difficult segment in the workforce for companies to find employees.

A 2012 report by Manpower says 53% of trade workers in the U.S. were 45 years and older, and many of those workers are getting ready to retire.

"Part of that is because we keep telling our kids they have to go to college, that's the only way to make a living," says Rick Shannon, Director of Arclabs Welding School in Columbia. "We just have to let them know there's another opportunity out there other than college."

Shannon says the average age of a welder is about 57.  And as baby boomers retire, Manpower estimates the demand for workers with skilled trades will grow.

Shannon says people working in skilled trades can make just as much money as those who earn college degrees, without the tens of thousands of dollars in student loans to repay.

"A welder can make a big living," he said. Students at Arclabs can be certified in as little as ten weeks of training.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for a welder is $35,450 a year, or just over $17 an hour, based on 2010 Census figures.

And sometimes it's easier for them to find jobs. Shannon says in South Carolina, the demand is growing throughout the state.

"They work at Savannah River Site, V.C. Sumner, Nucor Building Systems and many others," Shannon said.

The demand goes beyond the nation's borders.

"We have one graduate who's working overseas right now," said Shannon. "He just left a week and a half ago to go to Afghanistan on a contracting job."

For those workers willing to travel, the income opportunities can be higher than some jobs requiring a college degree. Welders can make as much as $25 an hour, but a more realistic wage for a recent graduate is about $15 an hour.

"If you're willing to travel, if you want to go out and see the world, It's not a bad field to get into because you can make good money," he said.

Trained workers in trades, manufacturing and construction are getting hired.  CNNMoney reported Wallace State Community College in Alabama has a placement rate of nearly 100%.

Part of Shannon's job is to visit companies to see their employment needs, and try to provide students with the training necessary to work specifically for their company.

"We go to companies all around the state and we actually go to those facilities and see what they're producing, see how they produce it, and we come back and try to mimic their processes so the students will be able to work on and do exactly what they would do in the workplace."

The school also invites companies who may be looking for employees to visit its facility and meet with the students.

"It helps employers find the right fit for their needs," said Shannon.

By 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the demand for welders to grow by 15%, in line with the national average for all employment. 

In a time that sees candidates taking cell phone calls and sending text messages in the middle of a job interview, schools like Arclabs have to make good employees before they can make good welders.

"The problem we've got is people haven't learned work ethics," said Shannon, who says the school requires students to show up for class on time and certify to industry-required safety standards.

"I speak with students, Rick, and the instructors to get to know the students and their work ethics," said Career and Student Services Coordinator Patti Mallette, who connects graduates with potential employers.

"We try to push them to do those things so that when they go out into the work force, the employer that hires them will get a productive worker and the learning curve going from school to the employer is as short as possible," said Shannon.

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