Sunday, October 22, 2017

Young laborers needed for skilled trades in Illinois

Young laborers needed for skilled trades in Illinois, Metamora Herald

It’s a far too common theme. The average age of farmers is rising, as is the average age of aviation mechanics. And laborers in other skilled trades agree, there aren’t enough young people stepping in to fill looming retirements.

A roundtable in Decatur Monday featured representatives from high schools and community colleges talking with private sector unions on how they can collaborate more to increase awareness and younger participants.

The event was organized by U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville. U.S. Senator Dick Durbin’s state director, Bill Houlihan, also was on hand.

Riki Dial, an organizing coordinator with the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters, said part of the problem is the mindset of the past few decades to get kids to focus only on college.

“There are other options out there,” Dial said. “A lot of the students and a lot of their parents don’t understand that and don’t push their kids into that skilled trade.”

Al Scheider, a guidance counselor at MaCarthur High School in Decatur, attends an annual guidance counselor conference and said the trends are changing.

“I would talk to people that just would totally act like that was horrible to support a kid going into a technical career,” Scheider said. “In the last couple of years, I’ve seen a big change in that.”

Scheider said guidance counselors should guide students to all opportunities, not just college. He also suggested not using terminology like “college and career ready,” but instead “post secondary education ready” because learning a skilled trade after high school is valuable.

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 146 Business Manager Josh Sapp said more outreach needs to happen.

“If there’s one thing that everybody needs to work on, it’s to expose their kids to the idea that they can get a career without going to college,” Sapp said.

Dial said explaining the economics should be enough of a selling point.

“Mostly the students, but even some of the teachers were astonished listening to the wages we make and the benefit packages we have,” Dial said.

Dial and others said workers don’t have to go into debt to get a college degree to make a good living in skilled trades.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports in Illinois the average salary for a carpenter is more than $62,000.

BLS reports the average salary for secondary school teachers in Illinois is more than $70,000, but that may come with student loan debt.

The average student loan debt in Illinois is nearly $30,000, according to the Institute for College Access & Success.

Various community college representatives said more can be done to collaborate and coordinate with all stakeholders to get more interest in the trades. There was also an emphasis on getting vocational training back in high schools.

Davis said the issue isn’t about more government money.

“We need all hands on deck,” Davis said. “I know a lot of companies are willing to invest to get good training programs to be able to get workers that are going to be ready to hit the ground as soon as they’re hired on Day 1.”

Davis said he wants to circle back in six months with the education and labor officials to follow up on the conversation and see what kinds of things the federal government can do.

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