In July 2016, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statics reported the need for 379,000 manufacturing positions – an increase of more than 280 percent since 2008.1 Industry leaders report that these job openings will continue to grow; according to the American Welding Society, there will be a need for over 400,000 welders by the year 2025.2 In the next decade alone, the Manufacturing Institute predicts a need for nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs.3 As the nation’s workers and infrastructure age, demand for qualified workers in the manufacturing industry will continue to grow.
While manufacturing job openings grow, however, employers are struggling to find qualified workers to fill them. In fact, the number of open manufacturing positions is at its highest point in 15 years, but the rate of hiring has only increased by 36 percent since 2008.⁴ The nation is facing a significant skills gap, one that the Manufacturing Institute predicts could result in nearly 2 million of the industry’s anticipated job openings going unfilled.⁵
Technology can play a powerful role in the engagement of today’s students in these vital career paths. After all, 21st Century Learning is a technology-based learning style; it is second nature for today’s process-oriented, connected and media-driven students to use technology to communicate, collaborate and create. Brick-and-mortar school buildings may have remained relatively the same over the past century, but the advancement of technology means the tools available to instructors are completely different.
How educators use technology is key in equipping students with the skills the workforce needs to remain globally competitive, from manufacturing and welding and beyond – and Career and Technical Education (CTE) professionals are stepping up. From virtual reality simulation tools to certification programs and student-run businesses, CTE instructors are taking steps to engage today’s 21st century students in these growing career paths and give them hands-on opportunities to learn valuable trades.
Illinois education organization using tools, certifications to teach students industry-specific skills
The Career Education Associates of North Central Illinois (CEANCI) is an Education for Employment (EFE) organization that serves 10 school districts in the Rockford, IL area. It works with educators and industry leaders to help ensure that the 28,000 students in its coverage area (which includes 15 high schools and 19 middle schools) have curriculum, equipment and materials to help them learn targeted, industry-specific skills. As the region encompasses a strong manufacturing industry, one of those skills is welding – a skill that CEANCI System Director Margie Hartfiel says is worth investing in.
“When we look at the programs we fund, we make decisions that are tied directly to labor market information,” said Hartfiel, who has been working in education for 27 years. “Welding is a high-need area, and as our labor market ages, we are finding that the business partners we work closely with are telling us repeatedly that they need these particular skills.”
Industry certifications are one way CEANCI is helping its students learn industry-specific skills. CEANCI currently offers certifications in a variety of CTE pathways, including manufacturing, early childhood, culinary arts and industrial technology – all of which the EFE works with industry representatives to ensure the relevancy of.
In 2014, CEANCI helped 630 students earn certifications; that number grew to 2,303 in 2015 and Hartfiel predicts that this year, over 4,300 students will earn certifications. Support for the initiative is regionwide; area educators and industry representatives recognize the value of a student’s ability to graduate from high school and say, “Yes, I can do this, and I have proven it.”
Technology is another tool that CEANCI is using to equip students with in-demand welding skills. In 2015, CEANCI approved funding for the guideWELD® VR welding simulator and the guideWELD® LIVE real welding guidance system. Implemented as a pilot program in the Winnebago and Oregon school districts, the guideWELD VR simulators are used to introduce students to welding in a virtual, spark-free environment, while the guideWELD LIVE systems are used to help students hone live welding skills. CEANCI sees two specific benefits to the implementation of such technology: the ability to save money and the ability to demonstrate learned skills.