Help wanted: More workers needed for high-wage, high-skill jobs

ABC7's Victoria Sanchez learns how to weld. (ABC7)

There’s a severe shortage of skilled labor in the trade industry. Many of the jobs are high-paying but the stigma of the work sometimes creates a gap between positions and potential employees.

Robert Hodge retired from welding a few years back and misses working with his hands.

“People don’t seem to realize this is a very, very good occupation,” he said.

Hodge now runs the American Institute of Welding in Chantilly, Virginia. The small, hands-on school offers certification and job placement after a student successfully completes the four-Saturday course.

“There’s so many jobs available right now,” he said.

A welder in the beginning of his or her career can sometimes make $60,000 a year, according to the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE). Still, like other trade positions such as mechanics, carpenters or even cooks, filling the openings is a problem.

“We still face a stigma,” said Steve DeWitt, the deputy executive director of ACTE.

DeWitt said students should weigh all their options – a four-year degree isn’t the only path to success.

“You know I think every parent wants their student to be a lawyer or a doctor and I think we need to listen to the students more as well," he said. "What do they really want to do? Then look at the economics of that. Are there fulfilling careers that are paying a family earning wage? So, if the answer is yes, let’s support that and get them into those careers."

The trades, also known as technical work, offers high-paid jobs that require shorter and less expensive training. DeWitt said it’s not an either/or. Sometimes a certification can lead to a two- or four-year degree when advancing in a career.

Retired welder Hodge said he wanted to become a plumber right out of high school but his father wanted him to go to college. He earned his bachelor’s degree and still ended up in the trades.

Next door to the American Institute of Welding, Quentin Metheny runs his father’s automotive shop. He’s been working in the business since he was 10 years old and started out by sweeping the floor.

Metheny said automotive work is a dirty job but enjoys working with his hands. He wishes more students fresh out of high school would be eager to join the trade.

“I don’t have many kids calling me that are young, ‘Hey can I be an oil change guy, can I come and learn?’ And that’s what we need,” he said.

Hodge believes if more people don’t start training for trade jobs, the economy will take a hit.

“Average age for somebody in the trades right now is between 56 and 58. There’s not enough people coming up through the ranks to backfill all these people that are going to be retiring in a few years,” he said.

According to the Association for Career and Technical Education, the students who participate in career and technical training in high school, graduate at higher rates than those who do not. The average high school graduation rate for teens concentrating in career and technical education is 93 percent. The national rate is 80 percent.

“Not to say that every student needs to go into this pathway but they need to consider all of the different options that are out there,” said DeWitt.

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