We have a skills gap—locally and across the country. It is a gap where good-paying jobs remain vacant because we don’t have enough candidates with the skills necessary to fill them; and these jobs don’t necessarily require a college degree. In fact, middle-skill jobs—those that require at least a high school diploma but less than a four-year degree—account for majority of job openings into the foreseeable future.

Today, there’s a high demand for workers in the manufacturing and construction fields, with skills such as machinist, electrician, welder, and building trades. High-tech manufacturing careers offer excellent wages, solid benefits, and the chance to pursue a worthwhile career. Unfortunately, there is the lingering negative perception by many parents, school counselors, and students, that trade school or BOCES is the thing you did if you were not cut out for college. Ironically, those with the right technical skills and some additional training are earning more than many of their peers with college degrees.

Mike Rowe, host of the Dirty Jobs TV series, is on a mission to promote the skilled trades and “Make Work Cool Again”. In 2008 formed the Mike Rowe Works Foundation (www.mikeroweworks.org), which has awarded over $5 million in scholarships to more than 1,000 recipients. Right now, he says, “We have to reconnect the average American with the value of a skilled workforce. Only then, will the next generation aspire to do the work at hand.” If you have a child or know someone who is interested in a skilled trade, I suggest you visit his website for information and inspiration.

In March 2019, Popular Mechanics Magazine published a very informative article titled, “How to Become a Skilled Tradesperson”.That article summarizes trends in the demand for the skilled trades and provides tips for getting started. As noted by one interviewee, “The trades are not merely an alternative to college. A trade is equal to college . . . Banks would not be built. Buildings to house machines, hospitals, and any other structure would not be built without the trades. It’s a career choice, not just a job.”

The Jefferson-Lewis BOCES partnered with Popular Mechanics Magazine to produce an online video mini-series, “The Trades are Hiring” (www.boces.tv/the-trades-are-hiring). The series of short videos features successful BOCES graduates, industry leaders, and others giving reality-based perspective on career opportunities in the trades.

A recent report by the Manufacturing Institute noted that by 2028, 2.4 million manufacturing jobs across the country are expected to go unfilled without some corrective action. Not having enough job candidates with the right skills makes it difficult for manufacturers to maintain or increase production levels necessary to meet customer demand. A previous study by the Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte stated:

“For production workers, it is not the need for degrees, but rather the ability to program machines on the plant floor. Increasingly, employers are looking for extended computer skills that enable core production workers to program a CNC (computer numeric control) machine for a new job, or interact with CAD/CAM (computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacturing) and other engineering or manufacturing software. In fact, manufacturing executives stated the top five skill sets that could increase significantly in the coming three years due to the influx of automation and advanced technologies are: technology/computer skills, digital skills, programming skills for robots/ automation, working with tools and technology, and critical thinking skills”

These are the type of skills that can be learned at BOCES programs and community colleges across Northern New York.

A strong workforce is vital to a sustainable and prosperous economy. The lack of a trained, ready-to-work population, and a growing skills gap are just a few of the challenges that hinder economic development here in the north country as they would anywhere else.

“My GPS for Success” is a multi-platform website (www.MyGPSforSuccess.com) where students and adults can watch, read and learn about career opportunities, income potential and education/training requirements in 16 career clusters outlined nationally as experiencing a shortage of skilled workers entering the workforce. Similarly, Mountain Lake PBS in Plattsburgh created “Career Crosswalks,” which also highlights career and technical education opportunities (https://mountainlake.org/learn/career-crosswalks/).

A college degree, while essential to many career choices, is not the only route to a lucrative and rewarding career. Remember, it’s the skilled jobs that keep the lights on and the plant running.

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