New training center makes skilled trades education a reality
Do something wonderful for community and you can count on a politician taking credit, even when government had nothing to do with the successful project.
The politicians who were among the more than 300 people at last week’s open house of the $15 million state-of-the-art skilled trades training center in Wayland passed out splendid compliments and grand accolades – all well-deserved.
The amazing 67,000-square-foot facility funded by the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights is set up to offer adults, high school graduates and GED-qualified individuals 300 apprenticeship programs leading to thousands of job openings in Michigan’s skilled trades industry. Those programs also come with the chance to earn money while the student learns.
For years, our state has allowed a skilled trades deficit to build, to the point that a growing list of jobs is waiting to be filled. Experts say that businesses will need around 15,000 workers each year to fill the openings in skilled trades. As educational leaders continue to focus on college-focused curriculums, however, we’ve not addressed this critical shortage or provided the opportunities for young people to secure the employment skills needed to provide for their futures.
Now, with the new training center in Wayland as a fantastic option for Barry County students and with two more such training centers scheduled for Detroit and Marquette, maybe there’s some light at the end of the skilled trades education tunnel.
Leaders across the state and nation have been warning educators since the 1980s to get non-college bound students job-ready skills, yet politicians and their state-mandated education system have continued with the mantra that, to be successful, a student needs to go to college. That's what made the remarks from politicians and education leaders at last week’s open house so ironic.
“This building represents one of the great things happening in our state and it didn’t cost the taxpayers a dime,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said. “It’s about opening up pathways to prosperity and integrity in work and not bankrupting our young people in the process of getting skills.
“This is a place you can come and find your passion and leave with some money in the bank, zero debt, a guaranteed job and a great quality of life. We at the state didn’t do anything to contribute to this, but we at the state will benefit from this and that’s why I’m here.”
That’s the problem. The state’s politicians and education leaders didn’t do anything to make a project like this happen. In fact, they oftentimes made it more difficult due to their lack of real knowledge about the importance of supporting kids not cut out for college. Yet they still continue to push the message that the only pathway to success is through college.
As a state representative from 2001 to 2006 and a state senator until 2015, the governor’s message, like those of other politicians and education leaders, has been less about skilled trades training programs than it has been about college.
In her State of the State address less than three months ago, Whitmer acknowledged that “Michigan is behind where students have a post-secondary degree,” and she pledged to take the state from 44 percent of adults with a diploma to 60 percent with a college degree or skills certification by 2030.
The structure of that future, though, can’t remain in the traditional education model. The future for Michigan industry and one solution to its employment problems rests on training centers like the one opening in Wayland.
“Our skilled training center is designed to take hardworking men and women and turn them into dedicated professionals, trained in the hard skills of carpentry, millwrights and floor laying as well as the soft skills of communication, leadership and teamwork,” said MRCCM Executive Secretary Treasurer Mike Jackson at last week’s open house.
According to the United States Department of Labor, the number of apprentices has increased by more than 400,000 after a lull in recent years. Meanwhile, in just 2014, more than 170,000 new candidates entered active apprenticeship programs, with hundreds of new apprentice programs established nationwide. Michigan is one of the leading states with more than 1,000 registered apprenticeship programs and over 18,000 active apprentices in training.
So why the sudden excitement over a program that’s been around for years? Because apprenticeships actually pay someone to learn, unlike traditional degree programs that cost a lot of money and leave students with heavy debt.
Plus, the vocational careers and trades that require apprentices are in high demand. For example, from 2012 to 2022, the Bureau of Labor predicts exceptional growth in industries such as: Construction trade workers by 22 percent; health technologist and technicians by 24 percent; installation, maintenance and repair occupations by over 10 percent; and construction-related workers by at least 12 percent. The starting pay, bonuses and other perks also put a renewed emphasis on the apprenticeship programs.
As our economy continues to move from an industrial- to a knowledge-based economy, skilled trades have become even more critical to manufacturers as they try to compete in this high-tech global economy. Employers are looking for candidates who demonstrate the ability and eagerness to learn the skills necessary to compete for the thousands of jobs left unfilled. Apprenticeship programs are a great way to engage students in hands-on learning while giving them the opportunity to experience a number of trades.
Too many Americans tend to view school Career and Technical Education classes and apprenticeships as a path for the lowest level student. Interestingly enough, the Department of Labor recently signed a declaration of intent with Switzerland to establish apprenticeship programs based on that country’s model. The Swiss model engages students at 15 or 16 years of age, by preparing them with 21st century skills for high-demand, high-skilled jobs, and allows them to pursue higher education (including university degrees) and training.
In Switzerland, approximately 70 percent of Swiss students presently choose to do an apprenticeship while only 25 percent choose a traditional university. The Swiss caution against looking at its model as a way to deal with unemployment or to get kids off the street. Instead, the model should be considered as a way to build up the next generation and create innovation. That sounds like the America of the 1950s and 1960s when young men and women looked to the trades as a sound career choice that allowed them to earn a good living and maintain steady employment.
Another interesting concept with the Swiss model is its heavy involvement from employers. Rather than looking to government, businesses lead the effort to develop the future talent, much like what the MRCCM is doing at the Wayland facility.
In Barry County, a workforce development group of local citizens has put together a number of training programs in cooperation with local industries, such as an automotive training program at the Gilmore Car Museum; an advanced manufacturing assembly training program in cooperation with Kellogg Community College and local industry; a culinary arts program in cooperation with the Barry Community Foundation and Hastings schools; and a welding program is available at Hastings schools in cooperation with KCC that can be taken after school with additional classes in Battle Creek location. High schools throughout the county also offer CTE training programs for those students looking for job skills.
With the cost of attending college on the increase isn’t it imperative that we step up the
focus on giving students some additional options for success?
The new skilled trades training center in Wayland gives me hope that giving our youth work-ready skills is a good investment.
Fred Jacobs, CEO
J-Ad Graphics, Inc.