BY ROBERT P. MADER
Of CONTRACTOR’s staff
WASHINGTON — The plumbing-heating-cooling industry has joined with heavy hitters such as General Motors and Toyota to recruit more young people into skilled technical fields. Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors - National Association, Air-Conditioning & Refrigeration Institute, Air Conditioning Contractors of America and others joined the Association for Career and Technical Education Sept. 15 at the National Press Club here to promote career and technical education.
Despite the economic downturn and high unemployment, a skills gap still remains that must be addressed if the United States is to remain globally competitive, according to a panel convened by ACTE at the National Press Club. Representatives from the National Association of Manufacturing, SkillsUSA-VICA and ACTE President Thomas Applegate said that employers continue to lament a shortfall of workers with the job training and employability skills needed to fill jobs in a number of technical fields.
“We will need 22,000 HVACR technicians and 60,000 plumbers just to fill vacancies that exist right now,” said ARI Vice President Ed Dooley. “We have thousands of jobs we can fill if we had skilled workers.”
According to the Labor Department’s Web site, both plumbing and the HVAC industries need 24% more workers, said Gerry Kennedy, vice president/education for PHCC-NA, although the absolute numbers are larger for plumbers because there are more of them.
“Depending on who you listen to at the Department of Education and the Department of Labor, 70% to 80% of the jobs in America do not require a college degree, but they do require education beyond high school,” Kennedy said. “So the point of the ACTE press conference was to point out the need for training and that jobs are going unfilled. We need trained, qualified technicians with adequate math skills, some basic science and some knowledge of electricity.”
The first step in narrowing the workforce supply and demand gap lies in career and technical education initiatives, said ACTE’s Applegate. “We must expand the secondary and post-secondary programs that prepare students for the high-skill, high-wage jobs our economy depends on.”
Phyllis Eisen, executive director of the Center for Workforce Success at the National Association of Manufacturers, agreed that career and technical education is crucial in giving workers the skills they will need to fill the millions of jobs that will require highly skilled labor over the next decade. NAM’s research found that while there is a growing need for skilled workers with two-year degrees, the current education system still places an emphasis on high school graduates going on to college to pursue a four-year degree.
Labor Department statistics forecast a 32% growth rate over the 2000-2010 period for jobs requiring a career or technical associate’s degree, and this is the fastest growing of all job categories.
One major factor that contributes to the negativity associated with manufacturing jobs, Eisen said, is an education system that continues to perpetuate the negative perception of the industry because it is out of step with the career opportunities emerging for young people in the field. Manufacturing, for instance, is more high tech than ever and pays wages that are 20% higher than any other industry.
“It will be hard for people to appreciate career and technical education if we don’t take the veil off manufacturing jobs,” Eisen added.
Along with technical skills, secondary students must also have good employability skills, added Tim Lawrence, executive director of SkillsUSA-VICA. His organization — which serves trade, industrial, technical and health occupations students in public high schools, CTE centers, area CTE schools and two-year colleges — is working with employers and institutions to close the skills gap by giving students practical experiences and technical skills, while helping them develop their soft skills: problem solving, teamwork, communication and human relations.
“People who are willing to get the education necessary, who are willing to show up on time and who are clean cut will get the job,” Kennedy said.
The biggest problem facing business, industry, and those in the career and technical education fields is changing the perception of parents and grandparents.
Kennedy said his favorite such memory is from six years ago at a General Motors session with 1,500 auto dealers and mechanics trainers. One of the mechanic trainees was a young woman who was asked what her parents thought of her chosen profession. She answered that her father was always supportive but her mother worried about her entering such an “unsavory” profession. Once her mother learned, however, that she could earn $50,000, she was all right with it.
ACTE in September 2002 launched an image campaign in collaboration with the organization’s Business-Education Partnership. Last year, the first full-page advertisement was placed in USA Today going out in seven regional editions of the national newspaper. On Sept. 16 this year, another full-page, color USA Today advertisement sponsored by the Business Partners ran in San Francisco, South Florida, Chicago, New York, Cincinnati, Philadelphia and Seattle.
In addition, state directors of the National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium have been instrumental in disseminating career kits to schools in the markets where the campaign has been under way. The kits contain career exploration materials from ACTE’s Business-Education Partnership, along with information and resources on how schools can promote career and technical education in their locales.
ACTE has also put together a Web Site, www.getcareerskills.com, which is prominently featured in all of the campaign’s material. In addition, Dooley noted, the PHC industry Web site is www.coolcareers.com.