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Is Technical Education the Answer to Closing the Workforce Skills Gap?

November 21, 2018 by Midlothian Economic Development

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Despite an overall positive year, thanks to a strong economy, a growing and persistent challenge is exasperating the manufacturing sector. The skilled labor shortage is intensifying, but technical education could be the answer.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 18,000 U.S. manufacturing jobs were added in September 2018, reaching 12.7 million jobs. While a lower unemployment rate is good news for the economy, the manufacturing industry struggles to fill these roles with skilled workers to accommodate continued growth.

Due to a lack of technical training and awareness of available jobs, younger generations are less likely to pursue a manufacturing career than previous generations. Even those who are equipped to handle skilled manufacturing work are grappling to find these job opportunities on their own.

This issue is compounded with a lack of “middle skills.” In other words, there are not enough employees for the jobs that fall between low-skill jobs, which call for a high school diploma or less, and high-skill jobs, which require a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Harnessing Technical Education to Generate a Talent Pipeline

To help solve the shortage, some manufacturers and economic development companies are fueling their talent pipeline through partnerships with universities, technical colleges, nonprofits, and local school districts.

These partnerships typically provide students with manufacturing technical skills, while connecting them with local manufacturing companies to build relationships and obtain hands-on instruction.

Right here in Texas, global technology and engineering company Emerson donated $1.5 million to Texas A&M College of Engineering in early 2018 to fund the new Emerson Advanced Automation Laboratory. The lab will provide engineering students with a high-tech learning environment that simulates real-world manufacturing plant operations.

Additionally, a manufacturing consortium consisting of PRISM Plastics Inc. and Saint-Gobain Abrasives Inc., partnered with Texas State Technical College (TSTC) to provide job training using a grant from the Texas Workforce Commission.

The Skills Development Fund grant provides custom training to 114 workers in areas such as hazardous materials, motor theory, and basic programmable logic controllers. After completing the training, the workers’ hourly wage will be $16.76.

How Technical Education Fuels Workforce Development

Higher education can give a job applicant a competitive edge, but a four-year degree isn’t for everyone. There are a number of reasons why a person might choose technical education over a bachelor’s program. Those who prefer a short-term education path, who excel with technical education, or who struggle with the financial commitment of a four-year university can benefit from attending a technical school.

Technical education offers students a way to bypass the time and financial commitments of a full degree program, while still obtaining required skills and valuable training for in-demand careers in the sector.

In fact, students who complete technical training at a trade school have a near 100% job placement rate, according to Rutgers University. Meanwhile, rates for graduates with bachelor’s degrees are only about half that percentage. Pair that statistic with the $1.48 trillion in national student loan debt, and the advantage of lower-cost technical education is apparent.

In today’s economy, there is no greater value than higher education. Technicians are in high demand across Texas in particular, as the state faces the skills gap — a trend that is expected to continue into next year. Technical education ensures that employees have the knowledge and skills necessary to support current and future businesses. These skills also benefit the workforce, equipping them with the tools needed to be competitive and successful in the workplace.