Colorado, along with the rest of the country is experiencing a critical shortage of manufacturing workers. A recent study conducted by Boston Consulting Group concludes that there are 80,000-100,000 manufacturing jobs currently unfilled due to a lack of skilled workers. 60 Minutes recently ran this story on the labor shortage.
A Lot of Good Jobs in Colorado
Closer to home, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment predicts that local companies will add nearly 7000 production workers by 2014. The median manufacturing wage in Colorado is $16-$17 per hour and for machinists and welders it’s 15-20% higher. That’s a lot of good jobs. But where will the workers come from? When I ran a sheet metal business in the mid-1990s, skilled welders and press brake operators were next to impossible to find at any price. In many cases, things are no better today.
Students not Introduced to Trades
In the not so distant past, students could graduate from high school, get a job at the local plant and over time earn a middle class wage. When I was in school I took two years of shop and could have become a sheet metal worker, draftsman, cabinet maker or pressman without any additional training. How many of our secondary schools even teach shop anymore? Most of today’s high school students are never introduced to the trades and have no concept of the opportunities available to them in the manufacturing sector.
Good Jobs Require More Skills
Beyond the necessary technical skills, 21st century manufacturing workers also need to be able to think creatively, solve problems, communicate effectively, manage projects and work well in teams. They need to be good in math and must read well, too. While low-skill manufacturing jobs are still available right out of high school, most of these jobs are the traditional repetitive, dirty jobs of the past. These jobs do not pay very well and often have very high turnover. In fact, robots are replacing many workers in these low-skill occupations because they never get hurt or call in sick. Future job security involves constant upgrading of both technical and non-technical skills. Keep learning and you’ll be worth your weight in gold.
These high-skill jobs are anything but repetitive and involve computer programming, robotic instruction and machine control using a touch screen interface. They are in dynamic industries like medical devices and equipment, aerospace, defense, bioscience, electronics and clean technology. Step inside a plant making printed circuit boards, medical components or satellites and you’ll be amazed. You can practically eat off the floor. The shops are air conditioned, well lit and normally very quiet. Safety is a key concern because healthy workers make efficient employees.
Modern Factories are Models of Efficiency
In the past 20 years concepts like just-in-time manufacturing, statistical process control, cost of quality and continuous improvement have squeezed most of the waste out of the manufacturing processes. Skilled workers need to know something about these concepts before they enter the workforce. This knowledge can only come from post-secondary career and technical education available at community and technical colleges.
Getting an Education in Manufacturing
Generally, entry level jobs in manufacturing require only a certificate or two-year degree. Front Range Community College offers a number of credit and non-credit programs that will train future manufacturing workers for 21st century jobs, such as:
- Clean Energy Technology (Electronics, Engineering Technology, Manufacturing Technology, Power Plant Technology) – Associates Degree and Certificates
- Computer Aided Drafting (CAD) – Associates Degree and Certificates
- Welding Technology– Associates Degree and Certificates
- Precision Machining Technology – Non-Credit Certificates (Starting February 2013)
Picking a career path can be fraught with uncertainty. Have you considered a career in manufacturing? What concerns do you have?