Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

Skilled Worker Shortage Targeted

Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

Skilled Worker Shortage Targeted

Article excerpt

MONTGOMERY | Mike Rowe, host of the television show "Dirty Jobs," talks about the problem in a promotional commercial for "Go Build Alabama."

"A third of Alabama's skilled tradesmen are over 50, and they are retiring fast," Rowe says in the commercial. "Yet who's replacing them? No one."

State economic and workforce development officials became aware of a growing shortage of skilled workers about three years ago, which led them to private and public efforts to promote skilled trades and highly technical training as early as middle school.

"We took our eye off the ball in the last 20 years and focused on everybody getting a bachelor's degree," said Lew Drummond, director of workforce development at Shelton State Community College.

Skilled trades and technical jobs that can earn $60,000 a year or more with benefits include welding, plumbing, industrial maintenance, precision machining and electrical engineering. There are opportunities in industries such as biotech, computers, aviation and shipbuilding.

Community colleges are responding to the shortfall. Shelton State Community College has a mechatronics program to train for jobs at the Mercedes-Benz plants in Vance. The program is a combination of classroom and hands-on training, with up to 18 more months of training onsite at Mercedes.

"If you complete the program at Shelton and complete successfully the 18-months program, they're going to offer positions at Mercedes anywhere from $60,000 to $100,000," Drummond said. The first 40 students started their Mercedes training in January.

The state is trying to stave off the shortfall with more technical courses and reaching out to junior high and high school students and their parents.

Besides the "Go Build Alabama" campaign for the building trades industry, the JobKeeper Alliance, a new cooperation between organized labor and manufacturing interests, has been created to emphasize skilled trades and technical training, and career tech training beginning in the eighth grade. …

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