Ranburne High School junior Logan Butler stood with anticipation, wearing his protective gloves. Butler had for some time considered welding as a possible career choice and was ready to try his hand at putting fire to steel.
“I picked welding because it seemed like a good choice at this time with the whole economy the way it is,” Butler said.
“People will always need welding; they’ll always need framing for cars and buildings to put together.”
If Butler were to pick up welding as a career, he’d be taking advantage of a skills gap labor experts say exists in manufacturing across the country — where despite the sagging economy, there are jobs available, but not enough people with the proper training to fill them.
Butler was one of multiple juniors and seniors from high schools in Calhoun and Cleburne Counties to visit the Ayers Campus Thursday as part of Gadsden State’s Explore Tech Day. The college hosts the program each year to give high school students some hands-on experience with possible future occupations in skilled labor such as welding, robotics and electronics.
Audrey Webb, electronic engineering and automotive manufacturing instructor at Gadsden State, said students learning technical skills are finding available jobs due to the skills gap.
“Many companies … they have positions right now and they don’t have students to fill them,” Webb said.
Dave Laton, associate director of career and technical education at the Alabama Department of Postsecondary Education, agreed that manufacturers are having trouble filling certain positions.
“There is an apparent skill gap,” Laton said.
And these jobs are available, despite high unemployment. According to the 2011 Skills Gap Report from the Manufacturing Institute, there is still a persistent shortage of skilled workers across the country. The Manufacturing Institute is a Washington, D.C.-based organization dedicated to improving and expanding manufacturing in the United States. It is affiliated with the National Association of Manufacturers.
The annual Gap Report, which was composed from a survey poll of 1,123 company executives across 50 states, indicates that 67 percent of respondents reported a moderate to severe shortage of available, qualified workers and 56 percent anticipated the shortage to grow worse in the next three to five years.
In addition, the report indicated that 5 percent of current jobs at respondent manufacturers are unfilled due to a lack of qualified candidates.
A 2011 State of the Workforce report from the Center of Business and Economic Research at the University of Alabama highlights a skills gap across the state and Calhoun County. The report, which breaks the state into nine regions, indicates that Calhoun County is part of a region with the lowest number of educated workers compared to the rest of the state.
Other counties in Calhoun’s region include Cherokee, Etowah, Talladega, Coosa, Cleburne, Clay, Randolph and Tallapoosa.
About 76 percent of residents 25 years old or older in Calhoun’s region have graduated from high school, compared to 81 percent for the state average. And of the 25 years old or older population, 14 percent in Calhoun’s region have a bachelor’s degree or higher versus 22 percent for the rest of the state.
Steve Dean, machinist for BD Precision in Oxford, said his company and others in his company’s industry have faced the problem of the skills gap. In partnership with Associated Metal Cast in Oxford, BD Precision manages and inventories various metal products for other companies and can also create finished machine components for customers.
“There’s a problem out there with not enough skilled labor in the area,” Dean said.
Dean said that much of the time, companies are simply hiring skilled labor away from each other and not new employees just entering the workforce.
“There is not a lot of new talent coming out,” he said. “(The country) hasn’t really promoted trades such as craftsmanship and welders. It seems the focus has been to promote, over the past several years, that you need a four-year college degree to be successful and that is just not true.”
Laton said his agency and the Governor’s Office of Workforce Development have partnered and worked closely with community colleges in the state to improve curriculums that will give students the skills companies need.
“We work very closely with colleges to standardize the curriculum … to keep the curriculum up to date,” Laton said. “And we sit down with businesses and industry to find out what they need in hopes of closing the skills gap.”
Ethan Gouger, a junior of Piedmont High School who was also at the Ayers Campus Thursday, said getting into a technical skilled job seemed like the way to go. He was busy watching how to solder a computer circuit board.
“I love higher-level electronics and thinking on a different level,” Gouger said. “And this way, I can go right out of college and into work with good pay.”
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star