This week, as we conclude our Help Wanted series, we’re joined by Randy Emery, a welding educator at College of the Sequoias, to discuss his views on the skills crisis and what can be done by employers, educators and workers to overcome the problems faced by the welding industry.
Q. In preparing this blog series, I’ve encountered a lot of confusion about the nature of the skills gap; whether it is a current problem, a future problem, or a little bit of both. What are your feelings about the skills gap?
A. I believe the skills gap is a current and growing problem in all of the “skilled” trades. I believe this problem is a direct result of the “College for All “movement of the past few decades (The idea that everyone must have at least a bachelor’s degree to be successful). This movement dismantled the Career and Technical Education systems in the K-12 educational world. This movement has also damaged the image of a career path for an industrial-type worker (You can read more about industry image problems in part 2 of our series).
Q. In your past contributions to American Welding Online, you’ve spoken frequently about employer engagement in the formation of the future workforce—employers participating in the education of future welders to produce workers with the skills an employer needs. Do you consider a lack of employer engagement to be the key problem with the industry now, or one of many?
A. The lack of employer engagement is definitely one of the top five issues in bridging the skills gap. If employers aren’t hiring the students trained by educators, any other efforts to fix welding education won’t be successful. As I see it, the top five issues that must be considered in order to bridge the skills gap are:
- How can we as educators or employers promote a career path in the manufacturing and construction trades to young people and be confident it will lead to success?
- How can we convince our local employers to engage with educators to become long term partners?
- How can we convince our local educators to become more flexible in their training delivery methods?
- How can we help our local employers to compete with anyone in the world at what they do?
- What effect will a well-trained, employed workforce have on the overall well-being of our community?
Q. While working on this series, a recurring problem we’ve found is that students are struggling in the academic environment; specifically with non-welding courses like math and English. As an educator, what do you find to be students’ biggest weaknesses?
A. For a variety of reasons, the majority of students have very weak basic skills: measuring, math, reading, etc. This issue needs to be addressed by embedding such basic skills within industrial training programs. Regardless of where students come from, industrial training programs need to get incoming welders to a functional level and grow them from there. I believe skills like English, industrial math, and various “soft skills” like communication should be incorporated into all industrial training. Our current program at College of the Sequoias is doing just that, although we definitely have room for improvement. I am describing a training model that is intended to guide students to employment. Whatever path a student takes after they find employment will depend on the individual’s personal goals. They may pursue a path that leads to a college degree or professional certifications. Our training model, if well rounded, could be a perfect starting point for a majority of American tradesmen and women.
Q. What do you believe students can do to address their weaknesses? Can you explain why some of the courses students’ are struggling with are important enough to a welding career to be worth finishing? Can you also suggest which classes you consider the most important to a welding career?
A. As I described in my previous answer, I am currently working on an embedding format, incorporating necessary skills into the industrial training process. We should not look for another class to implement these critical training details needed by an industrial employee. This embedding effort is designed to be very specific to trade related careers and focused on a career pathway. This embedding is an effort to streamline the overall training experience as much as possible and minimize any chance of becoming disconnected from the actual needs of workers and employers.
Q. On the same note, what reforms might educators consider making to the average welding program’s requirements to better serve students and the industry?
A. One of the top reforms should be offering courses in a more efficient manner, such as “Fast Tracking”. Due to scheduling conflicts and poor faculty management, a student enrolled in a traditional program could spend 2 or more years trying to finish. At College of the Sequoias, I am currently delivering 5 courses, totaling 18 college units, in one semester. Our “Fast Track” is done in one semester and delivers an AWS SENSE Level 1 certification and a Level 2 certification for the Manufacturing Skills Standards Council (MSSC CPT). If a student then wishes to return for more training they’re only a few classes away from an Associate’s degree. And that same student would have job ready skills to aid in employment opportunities, but that could also help any future education the student desired to pursue later.
Q. Do you have any general advice you’d like to give to welding students to improve their chances of finding work in the industry’s current climate?
A. Seek training delivered by instructors who have recent industrial experience and question them to verify that experience. Seek out as much “Cross Training” as possible; this should include all common welding processes, layout skills, fitting skills, welding process expertise, quality control, etc. Develop a strong work ethic, good team work skills, and be aware that you must never stop learning new related skills.
Q. We’ve come to the conclusion of our series, in which we’ve touched on a number of problems that have led, and are continuing to worsen, a major skills crisis. You’ve shared your thoughts on this topic with us before, but would you like to offer any advice for employers, educators and students about how to fend off the crisis?
A. One of the most critical concepts to understand is that the crisis affects all of us. Therefore, all stakeholders: employer, educators and students, must be equal parts of the solution. We will be unsuccessful if we don’t collaborate, identify our shared goals and needs, and be willing to accept and develop positive changes. We must all do our part and stop playing the blame game.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our Help Wanted series, the rest of which can be found on our blog. As always, we also invite you to visit our website, where you can explore a variety of resources to help you advance your career, including online courses, virtual conferences and more.