Manufacturing Boom: Trade School Enrollment Soars

trade school enrollment

By Parija Kavilanz

NEW YORK -- Trade schools nationwide are bursting at the seams as demand for skilled factory workers pushes enrollment to record highs.

American manufacturers in certain sectors are enjoying a rebirth fueled by the return of overseas production back to the United States. As factories crank up, they have an urgent need for high-skilled workers such as machinists and tool-and-die makers knowledgeable in computers.

Trade school officials say manufacturing programs are experiencing an influx of students -- young people starting out, mid-career workers who are retraining after a layoff, and incumbent factory workers.

Workers are drawn not only by the opportunity but also the pay: Starting salaries of $50,000 to $60,000 aren't out of range for high-skilled talent.

But the surge in enrollment is posing unique challenges for schools, many of which are running at or beyond full capacity for the first time in decades.

School administrators are clamoring to hire more instructors and secure funding to buy additional equipment and add classes.

These infrastructure limitations, and the fact that it can take a year or more to train high-skilled factory workers, mean that the current labor shortage could persist for several years.

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Unlike 20 years ago, manufacturing today requires workers who are computer literate and skilled in computer-aided design and engineering, said Sandra Krebsbach, executive director of the American Technical Education Association.

Demand through the roof: The Dunwoody College of Technology, a private nonprofit school in Minneapolis, offers two-year programs in tool and die, computer-aided and robotics manufacturing.

Dunwoody will have 120 students across its manufacturing programs this year.

"That's the highest level of enrollees we've had in 15 years," said E.J. Daigle, the school's director of robotics and manufacturing.

For the first time in the school's 99-year history, Dunwoody will this fall introduce a six-month certificate program designed to fast-track training.

The program will allow the school to churn out an additional 40 graduates trained specifically in computer-aided manufacturing, said Daigle.

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"Most of these fast-track students are older, in their 30s and 40s, who can't take two years off to go to school," he said, adding that these students have the option to return at any time and complete the two-year degree.

Demand for skilled workers has shot through the roof in his area, spurred largely by Minneapolis' robust medical devices industry led by Medtronic, said Daigle.

"We graduated 20 students in June and we had 400 inquiries about them from manufacturers," he said.

It's a similar story in parts of Wyoming, said Ami Erickson, dean of agriculture and technical careers at Northern Wyoming community college in Sheridan and Gillette.

Demand for skilled workers in Wyoming is coming primarily from mining and natural gas companies, she said.

Both industries also have incumbent workers nearing retirement who will need to be replaced, Erickson said.

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Starting salaries run as high as $80,000 and possibly more with overtime because of the worker shortage. Not surprisingly, the school's diesel and welding technology programs have large waiting lists, she said.

Erickson is on the hunt to add instructors in both schools, but money is tight. "As a public school, we're funded by the state. Lately, we've had a pullback in funding," she said.

High-skilled workers are a hot commodity in Georgia as new manufacturers set up base, and existing ones expand operations, said Linda Barrow, vice president of academic affairs at Lanier Technical College, a two-year public school outside Atlanta.

"We expect enrollment in our programs will jump 8 percent to 15 percent, said Barrow. But accommodating more students is a challenge. "Our most hands-on classes have at most 20 students each, for adequate training and safety reasons," she said.

So the school's come up with a creative solution -- "virtual training."

Barrow said the school recently purchased a "virtual welding trainer" that allows students to learn and practice skills on a screen.

"If a student takes too long on a conventional machine, they can go practice on the virtual trainer," she said. "This way the whole class isn't held up and we can also train more students."

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Liberals and "progressives" will never support trade schools unless they are government schools controlled by the teacher's union. Of course there will be requirements and high standards to meet. First they will give all instructors tenure, then eliminate testing and finally graduate anyone who enrolls to encourage self-esteem. It is the socialist way and the path to hope and change.

August 07 2012 at 1:57 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

They aren't as affordable as they should be either one school where I live wants $35,000! How can anyone afford that and not be in debt for years and years?! All schools/trade schools should be free or at most no more than $10,000.

August 01 2012 at 4:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Robotics is the future, but be careful to go to a school that's acceptable to the companies doing the hiring. A technical engineer with a four year engineering degree is the best, but a two year associate degree should do the trick for starters. It's hard work. Because of future advancements, your education shall never really end. The first two to four years are only the beginning. Study math, computers, and science in high school. Hit the books!

August 01 2012 at 2:07 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Angel Uwillberewarde

Most of the students will attend these schools but once graduated will stand around with their thumb up their butt like all the other young people who have no work ethic!

July 31 2012 at 7:32 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
nwordmaniadot com

Trade schools especially in the medical field for technicians are making a fortune passing bthru illegal aliens and GED equivalent losers and its all being paid for by taxpayers. Beware of the unskilled trade school medical staff next time you visit a doctor or hospital.

July 31 2012 at 6:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Trade schools where the future 63 yrs ago in America and all over Europe. In Europe YOU HAD TO GO TO A TRADE SCHOOL 63 YRS AGO pluse . was stupid to get rid of trade schools in America in the late 1960s

July 31 2012 at 4:14 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to NKS55S's comment

The liberal demand for "equality" meant that everyone had to go to college. Qualifications and ability didn't matter and neither did motivation. Government loans and grants were expanded to subsidize a greedy academic cash grab, as college pay and benefits increased and resort level facilities were built across the country. As with all liberal fantasies, it failed. This fantasy ended with most students getting useless degrees, leading to very high graduate unemployment levels. And it saddled them with massive student debts that they cannot repay. That is what happens whenever people believe that government is the answer.

July 31 2012 at 4:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to jaguar6cy's comment

The down side to this is the number of fake schools set up only to scam the pupils. Returning vets may be prime targets as these 'schools' try to take as much money out of veterans benefits as they can.

July 31 2012 at 4:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I have been saying it for years, learn a needed trade. Very few young people are interested in trades like cabinetry, precision welding, precise machining and other really skilled jobs. These are the types of jobs that pay well and you are almost guaranteed a lifetime of employment.

July 31 2012 at 4:07 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply

Much less expensive than 4 years of college and much more practical and applicable in getting a job in today's world and work force. I definitely think it is the way of the future...because years of schooling degree's doesn't mean squat today when looking for a job...they want the skills/certification programs - never thought I'd ever say I regretted spending all that money to get degree's...but in this job market - you are just one in a long line of folks with degree's that mean nothing...and if I could do it again...I would go vocational or junior college...lot less money and very little difference in the meaning of the degree.

July 31 2012 at 4:01 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Jc2009USA's comment
Latest Technology

have been saying it for decades, understand a required business. Very few adolescents are enthusiastic about deals like cabinets, perfection welding, accurate machining and other really experienced tasks. These are the kinds of tasks that pay well and you are almost assured a life-time of occupation.

September 15 2012 at 6:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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