More tradespeople needed in the United States; Aiken County is prepared

CSRA News

AIKEN, S.C. (WJBF) — After decades of pushing bachelor’s degrees, the United States needs more tradespeople.

“Welding is what I’m majoring in now and it’s just always something I’ve been kinda interested in,” Tyler Honeycutt told NewsChannel 6’s Shawn Cabbagestalk when asked about his program at Aiken Technical College. “The whole with getting into debt thing with four-year colleges didn’t really appeal to me. So it just seemed like the smartest decision,” he shared.

That ‘smartest decision’ is a pretty safe bet. That’s because the skills being taught at Aiken Tech are in high demand.

A lot of effort has been put into encouraging high school graduates to go to college for academic degrees rather than for training in industrial and other trades and that’s creating shortages. “That’s what more of the core classes were generated toward, but more of the electives, like our welding program or our agriculture program, they would say both routes would be a viable option,” Honeycutt recalled.

“I think there is a stereotype that people that do a lot of hands-on work don’t make as much money as say, an engineer or a doctor or someone who is considered a professional,” Machine Tool Instructor Christopher Burton said.

The educator in his second full-time year teaching says he has seen steady enrollment in the program at Aiken Tech.

“Since I been here, I have seen pretty much a steady supply of students. I haven’t really seen an increase or decrease. I do agree we need a lot of hands-on students and people who have training in the skilled-trade because basically our country is built on people that build and make the products that we use every day,” he added.

We’ve learned the U.S. has 30 million trade-type jobs that pay an average of $55,000 per year. These jobs don’t even require a bachelor’s degree.

“I think we see an increase of individuals applying for our technical programs. When we think about technical education and we think about the allied health and also our information technology jobs, we’re seeing a surge of interest in those because of the high demand jobs,” Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs Vinson Burdette said.

Some of the fastest projected growth will occur in the healthcare, healthcare support, construction, and personal care fields. Together, these four occupational groups are expected to account for about one-third—more than 5.3 million—of all new jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Meanwhile, 80 percent of construction firms report they are having a hard time filling hourly craft positions that represent the bulk of the construction workforce, according to the results of an industry-wide survey released by Autodesk and the Associated General Contractors of America. We’ve learned from the U.S. Department of Education, there will be 68 percent more job openings in infrastructure-related fields in the next five years.

Aiken County is a forest of growth and the need to entice skilled workers is now reaching the state level. “What we’re seeing at the state level is more provision of grants and scholarship opportunities as an incentive for students to enter programs that lead to those high demand jobs,” Burdette said.

Grants and scholarships can be applied to schools like Aiken Tech where they offer a myriad of courses with a large number dedicated to skilled trades. In the technical education division, they offer a series of programs such as welding, nuclear fundamentals, machine tool technology, radiation protection technology, and electronics engineering technology.

In addition to programs, the College has prepared for growth by building the Center for Energy and Advanced Manufacturing, a welding lab, a machine tool technology lab, and an upgraded radiation protection technology lab. “So the College has been trying to respond to that over time,” Burdette shared.

“We have them go through some very highly technical programs that are designed specifically to go out and work in industry,” Dean of Technical and Continuing Education Dr. Steven Simmons said.

Simmons says that some of the programs that are in high demand in the industrial sector include the industrial maintenance program, computer numeric control, machine tool, and welders.”The word has gotten out that welders can make a significant amount of money if they’re willing to travel and they go work on some sites across the United States. We prepare welders with our program for that growing field,” he added.

It’s helping folks like Tyler Honeycutt get to his next level in the local economy. The first-year student said he plans to get a job at “a plant like Vogel, SRS, somewhere local like that, and then go from there.”

The College is now accepting applications for the Spring 2020 and Summer 2020 year. For more information, go to https://www.atc.edu/.

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