Job Prospects Growing for Skilled Trades Workers

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Pima_career_tradesConstruction, manufacturing industries in midst of steady recovery

The manufacturing and construction industries took a heavy blow during the Great Recession. But with those industries now experiencing a strong, steady recovery, they face another challenge: Finding enough skilled workers to fill the new jobs.

Skilled tradespeople are aging and heading toward retirement, while young people were steered away from the trades in recent years because of the downturn.

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Kat Franco Moreno

“Parents and advisors were telling kids they didn’t want to be a plumber or a welder,” said Ken Bice, department chair of Pima Community College’s Welding and Machine Tool Technology programs. “There’s nobody to step in and take our place.”

ManpowerGroup, a multinational human resources firm that conducts an annual survey of U.S. employment trends, reported that the hardest job to fill in 2015 is a skilled trades position. Number 10 on the list is production/machine operator.

The good news is that the employers’ problems mean growing opportunities for people interested in the trades – especially those with the type of intense, specialized training provided by PCC’s trade programs.

Building Construction Trades: Constructing Your Career

For someone willing to relocate, job prospects in construction are excellent as companies across the country report difficulty filling positions in electrical, carpentry, roofing and plumbing.

“Contractors would love to hire more workers but there aren’t enough qualified craft workers or supervisors available,” the Associated General Contractors of America recently stated in a press release.

And while the demand is less robust in Arizona, local employers are always looking for well-prepared workers, says Patrick Lawless, department chair of Pima’s Building and Construction Technologies (BCT) program.

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Student Brian Smedley works under the watchful eye of Mark Backes.

“We have employers coming in here weekly looking for skilled individuals to place with their companies,” Lawless said. “We have a lot of students who find jobs before they are done with their education.”

Pima’s BCT program offers an Associate of Applied Science Degree and certificates in Basic or Advanced Building and Construction Technologies, Solar Technology and Cabinetmaking, along with three Home Maintenance and Repair certificates. The program covers everything from carpentry, electrical and plumbing to facilities maintenance and construction management, as well as Heating/Ventilation/Air Conditioning and Refrigeration (HVAC-R).

Pima students master their skills on the latest equipment in hands-on laboratories that replicate a working environment. They operate hand and power tools, learn to read blueprints and complete projects.

BCT student Kat Franco Moreno’s first big electrical project was installing an air compressor.

“I really enjoyed it. I didn’t need to focus on anything else. I was just so focused on the task at hand,” she said.

Franco Moreno, who is specializing in electrical, said, “I always thought I would go to a university, but the more I thought about it, the more Pima made sense.”

“The lab here is beautiful. I learn at my pace and can spend extra time on an area if I’m having trouble, so I absorb what I’m taught. I’m not driving myself crazy with stress, and I actually have time to participate in the fun extracurricular and club events the College offers,” she said.

Franco Moreno wants to work as an electrician after graduating but might pursue further education and combine her trade skills with her interest in medicine, perhaps in the field of biotechnology.

Machine Tool Technology: Manufacturing Your Future

At the risk of offending his colleagues, PCC instructor Mark Backes likes to call Machine Tool Technology (MAC) “the king of trades.”

“Everything starts with manufacturing,” said Backes, lead faculty for Pima’s MAC program. “When you enter a room, take a look around; manufacturing is responsible in some way for everything in that room, whether it’s a spoon, a plastic cup or a soda can.”

Students in Pima’s MAC program study that large segment of the manufacturing arena that actually makes the parts that go into products sold throughout the world.

Pima’s MAC program teaches the basics of manual and computer numerical control (CNC) machining, inspection and metallurgy. The program incorporates theory and hands-on training of techniques used in metal manufacturing, with courses in math, metallurgy, drafting, mechanical inspection, manufacturing processes and computer-aided machining.

Pima students are given manufacturing projects to complete, and learn on the same machines used in machine shops around the country. The College strives to keep up with technology, recently adding five new Sharp manual 1440 lathes and a new Doosan 4-Axis CNC mill to its MAC lab.

“I want our students to be exposed to different machines with different controllers,” Backes said. In a machine shop, “you are not just running one type of machine, you are running a variety of machines with different controllers.”

“We’re listening to our students. We’re listening to employers. And we’re listening to the input of our advisory board,” Backes said. “We’re always improving.”

Student Brian Smedley earned his Associate of Applied Science in MAC from Pima in 2012, but has returned to Pima to earn a certificate with concentrations in CNC machinist and CNC programmer.

Smedley completed an engineering internship at Raytheon Missile Systems Co., and plans to study engineering management at The University of Arizona. He hopes the combination of manufacturing and engineering will make him an attractive candidate for management jobs in the future.

“I’m trying to learn as much as I can and take every opportunity,” Smedley said. “The instructors at Pima are very knowledgeable and can focus on you because of smaller class sizes, and I feel like I’m getting an excellent education. They teach you real-world practices in addition to what you learn in the books.”

As a result of his training, Smedley already has been offered CNC jobs paying $18-$21 per hour, plus benefits.

Pima offers a certificate and an Associate Degree of Applied Science in MAC. Students leave prepared for entry-level skilled labor jobs with machine shops. Employers are open to providing on-the-job training to motivated workers willing to put in the years it takes to become a skilled machinist. But they still want those trainees to have a solid educational foundation – such as that provided by the PCC program.

It demonstrates that a potential employee “is dedicated to the trade, that this is what they want to do,” Backes said.

Welding: Fusing Training with Opportunity

Student Aja Hernandez actually glows with happiness from the tips of her pink construction boots to the top of the welding helmet propped back on her head when she talks about Pima’s welding program.

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Alex Shamos and Aja Hernandez

“It’s like my first love,” she said. “I love it because it’s hands-on and because I’m not really good at keeping my head in the books. Instead, I’m working with something that has to do with electricity and fire.”

Student Alex Shamos talks about a career in welding as an adventure.

“Combined with this training, I want to get a commercial diver license and do underwater work,” Shamos said. “It is the most difficult, dangerous and well-paid type of welding. You go pretty much all over the world, working on oil rigs, in shipyards and on telecommunications projects with miles and miles of pipeline between islands.”

Bice, the Welding department chair, says the local job market for welders is picking up and the employment opportunities for those who are willing to move are excellent.

Pima’s graduates are poised to benefit from the increasing demand. Pima offers an Associate of Applied Science in Welding and, through PCC Workforce and Continuing Education, a series of four certificates that build on each other. Most PCC welding students take and pass the standard certification test offered by the American Welding Society.

Bice notes that several major national companies have announced plans to hire thousands of welders in the near future, and they want a percentage of them to come from community colleges and trade schools. Such programs, like Pima’s, combine the theory and science of welding with extensive safety training and hands-on experience.

“The education the students are getting here is a big plus,” Bice said.

For information on all Pima’s degree and certificate programs, visit pima.edu/programs-courses.

- Anne  T. Denogean

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