Community colleges race to fill job skills gap

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Capital News Service
LANSING – Students at Jackson Community College can now learn welding skills through two new programs.
Rebekah Woods, executive dean of instruction at the college, said the programs began because of a need in the area, but also across the country.
Other community colleges around the state, including ones in Alpena, Grand Rapids and Centreville, are also initiating new programs to fill the needs of employers and students.
According to the American Welding Society, the United States will experience a shortage of nearly 240,000 welders to meet industry demand by 2019.
“Welders are highly specialized and have lots of career advancement opportunities,” said Woods. “Students can begin our manufacturing pathway with a foundational skill set that is designed to expose students to the process of welding.”
Woods said welding is used in a wide range of fields, such as automobile manufacturing and repair, appliances, ships and construction equipment.
“Since the knowledge of computers is becoming increasingly important within the welding industry, employers are continuing to report that is becoming exceedingly difficult to find qualified, trained individuals. The demand for welders will be affected by continuing technological changes, such as computer-aided manufacturing and robotics,” she said.
Alpena Community College will start a marine technology program this summer, and broadcasting will begin in the fall.
Mark Curtis, vice president of academic and student affairs at the college, said the marine technology program was launched because of its close proximity to and affiliation with the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, which is run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“Additionally, there is a documented need for technicians with diving and marine knowledge to work on various research vessels in the Great Lakes and the world’s oceans,” Curtis said.
The college designed the broadcasting program after conversations with a regional cable provider, Sunrise Communications in Onaway, which had been fostering broadcasting programs regionally at the high school level, according to Curtis.
“With a growing demand from high school graduates and the local CBS affiliate, WBKB in Alpena, the program was seen as a natural addition to our offerings,” he said.
“We see a reasonable demand for each of these new programs, one that would equate to enrollments of approximately 20 per year per program. We also see reasonable employment and transfer opportunities for the graduates,” Curtis said.
Raul Alvarez, executive director of communications at Grand Rapids Community College, said the college opened some online programs this year with Wyoming High School, including information security, advanced manufacturing partnership, advanced energy storage and MRI certification.
The reason is to fill a skills gap and provide online programming to obtain a college credential or degree, Alvarez said.
“The demand is there. Industry is asking us to provide training for their workforce,” he said.
He said the college works with six companies such as LG Chem, a manufacturer of lithium-ion battery cells, through the Michigan New Jobs Training program.
“More companies are hiring, and we hope to offer programming that meets the need of the returning worker, as well as enticing high school students to begin their education and training with us,” Alvarez said.
Meanwhile, declining resources raise a challenge for Glen Oaks Community College in Centreville.
President Gary Wheeler said Glen Oaks offered a vibrant machine tool program in partnership with a local high school and area manufacturers in the recent past. However, the college discontinued it, partially because of costs and a perception by students that manufacturing is a dead-end career choice.
“Now we are picking up the pieces and starting a robotics program, first at the high school level and initial college level before launching a full program,” Wheeler said.
He said that the program may be more successful in attracting students, and partnering with manufacturers.

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