As we approach back-to-school season, thoughts naturally turn to education. As usual, I perused a number of resources as I prepared this column.

Kiplinger magazine compiles information provided by a number of expert sources to determine the Best Jobs That Don’t Require a College Degree. For 2017, they pinpointed the best 11, and one of these – Industrial Machinery Mechanic (IMM) – is something we can relate to. They indicate that there are 334,394 IMM jobs with a predicted 10-year growth of 19.2%. The median annual salary is $49,537. Their 2016 findings included plumber, IMM, machine-tool programmer and mechanical insulator as top-10 picks.

More than a decade ago, I began to discuss the need for trades education. A recent poll of CEOs by FORTUNE magazine saw the skilled-labor shortage as their number-four challenge. We have previously reviewed the reasons for this, and some of these have only become more acute. These include but are not limited to:

  • An aging skilled workforce inching ever closer to retirement. Deloitte indicates that 2 million of 3.4 million American manufacturing jobs will go unfilled by 2025.
  • An educational system tracking students only to four-year institutions. This is in spite of a U.S. Labor Department report saying the majority of new American jobs in the next decade will not require a college degree.
  • A negative image of manufacturing. A 2015 study found that millennials ranked manufacturing as their least-preferred career.
  • Fewer candidates in the workforce. A report indicated that 10% fewer prime-age males are in the workforce compared to 60 years ago.
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The Trump administration is investing in apprenticeships. On June 15, an executive order was signed to double the funds for apprenticeships, which would boost the number of apprentices to 500,000. It’s a step in the right direction, but local governments and industries (sometimes in partnership) are also investing in programs designed to improve awareness and engagement. For example, a Wisconsin partnership between schools and over 200 manufacturers shows the results. In 2005, 193 students were enrolled in welding programs compared to 835 in 2016. Similar increases were seen in machinist programs.

In our industry, individual companies are also investing in industrial education. In May, we reported that Arconic Foundation awarded six $100,000 grants in its Advanced Manufacturing Educational Grant Program. Our May 17 news item detailed who received these grants.

The steel industry has taken steps to train and educate its future workforce. These programs vary, and you can investigate them on your own if you are interested in benchmarking. They include:

  • ArcelorMittal USA: Called Steelworker for the Future®, this program is designed for high-school students who do not intend to go to college. It is designed to have students develop basic skills at a partner college, pass an entrance exam and then train on specific equipment.
  • California Steel Industries Inc.: Their InTech center uses fully equipped facilities to teach skills such as blueprint reading, robotics, welding and machining.
  • Charter Steel: Partners with local high schools and the Wisconsin Youth Apprenticeship Program.
  • Gerdau: Educational programs have been established down to the middle-school level to raise awareness of career opportunities.
  • Nucor: Their program, in partnership with Shelton State Community College, is much more directly focused on training carefully recruited students.

Here’s what we had to say nearly a decade ago. “If you know someone who is not sure they want to go to college, let them know of the opportunities for skilled workers in manufacturing. They will thank you, and our industry will become just a little stronger one person at a time.”