How 50% of hires made at a Bridgestone hiring event came from one announcement on WorkHands

According to a recent SkillsUSA infographic, 83% of companies report a moderate to serious shortage of skilled workers.  With so many folks retiring from skilled trade positions and not enough entering these industries, everyone is feeling the strain of hiring craft workers.  The struggle to find quality skilled trade workers has lead even major household names like Bridgestone/Firestone to get creative.

Example announcement 1

When Bridgestone’s family of retail centers needed to fill multiple auto repair technician positions in their bay area stores, they joined forces and put on a hiring event at one of their locations. Candidates would be interviewed and offered right on the spot. With the date and location set, the Bridgestone/Firestone recruiter in charge of promoting the event posted the details to every outlet at his disposal. As a WorkHands recruiter, he also posted an announcement to all of the trade school networks he partnered with on WorkHands.

“…the turnout from WorkHands was very good!”
- Recruiter, Bridgestone/Firestone

After the event, the recruiter relayed that 50% of the candidates they hired that day came from the WorkHands’ announcement. He said, “…the turnout from WorkHands was very good!” The announcement not only brought attention to the specific hiring event, but also sparked connections on WorkHands that will last beyond the event.  He connected with automotive technicians, automotive students, alumni, and instructors at automotive training programs that will benefit both parties for the foreseeable future.

Want to try recruiting on WorkHands? Get started as a recruiter now to find, connect with, and hire qualified trade workers on WorkHands. We have plans to fit your company. If there’s any other way we can help, contact us.

The Skills Gap in Numbers and Reports from the Ground

We hear about the skills gap all the time, but where does this gap come from and what are the facts behind this term?

The core of the problem is that baby boomers are retiring out of skilled trades jobs and many younger people are, for a variety of reasons, choosing alternate paths. According to Adecco, over half of American skilled trades workers are over 45 and 62% of firms struggle to fill skilled trades positions. While skilled trades jobs were the core of the middle class when the boomers were coming of age, now the workforce is more diffuse. Caterpillar notes that only one third of parents today encourage their kids to go into the trades.welders-in-training

These trends have led to some grim bulk statistics. A report released this year from Deloitte and the National Association of Manufacturers explains that 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will need to be filled in the next decades, and only about 1.5 million of them will be:

“An estimated 2.7 million jobs are likely to be needed as a result of retirements of the existing workforce, while 700,000 jobs are likely to be created due to natural business growth. In addition to retirements and economic expansion, other factors contribute to the shortage of

skilled workforce, including loss of embedded knowledge due to movement of experienced workers, a negative image of the manufacturing industry among younger generations, lack of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills among workers, and a gradual decline of technical education programs in public high schools.”

What does the skills gap look like on the ground? Employers we talked to cite hiring as one of their biggest pain points. Joseph Bohm of Dual Fuel said that on a scale of 1-10, his hiring difficulty is a 10.

“It’s not the process, but the quality of candidates,” Bohm explains.

Blake Foster, who owns SpeedShop in Utah, has had the same problem.

“I don’t want to sift thru McDonalds resumes to get a welder or sales VP,” says Foster. To test out candidates, Foster starts by giving them a piece of scrap metal and a tig welder, and asks them to weld anything.

“Most guys don’t even check if gas is on,” he says. “It’s not even worth talking if they can’t weld.”

Of course, the skills gap gets wider or smaller based on location and profession. Companies that hire at various locations around the country find that certain areas have more skilled trades workers than others.

“Right now, in the US, it depends on the role. Our bread and butter operators at refineries are pretty easy….That’s like a 2,” says Will Wingard of Shell, using the 1-10 scale. “When you’re talking about trades/crafts — machinists, mechanics, millwrights, technicians, more like a 6 or a 7 or here in California, it’s more like an 8 or 9.”

The difficulty in hiring is large enough to affect how some companies are structured.

“Just our recruiting and advertising costs have doubled,” notes Karen Siravo of Crown Services. “I think its a reaction to the tightening labor pool. We’re spending more money to get them in the door.”

The skills gap is real, and it’s only getting wider. Everyone from trade schools to recruiters to policymakers will need to figure out how best to operate in this economy.


What’s the right skilled trade training program for me?

skilled-trade-trainingSo you’ve decided you want to learn a trade — great. Now, you just need to navigate your options. Here’s an overview to help you choose which training program is right for you:


Apprenticeships, when you can find them, offer some of the best training value. These programs typically last 4 years with both classroom and hands-on elements from the beginning. Best of all, they allow students to earn income by working in related jobs throughout the program. The biggest commitment on the student’s end is time as these programs typically run 2-4 years–for example the Bay Area Roofing and Waterproofing Apprenticeship Program takes three and a half years. Still, the combination of learning in a program and on the job while earning part-time wages makes apprenticeship programs one of the best options for many students.


Community College

Many of these programs are not technically trade schools, but they graduate the majority of skilled trades workers today. They tend to be two years and grant associate’s degrees or certifications. Typical tuition is several thousand per semester, but sometimes arrangements with local employers can be made in which they cover tuition in what amounts to a work-study program.


Vocational High School

As the name suggests, a vocational high school is focuses on skilled trades training at an early age. Often these schools offer a variety of programs across many fields. For instance, the Apollo Career Center in Ohio has programs in automotive technology, building maintenance, welding fabrication and also cosmetology, design and cooking. These schools also have typical academic courses in English, math, etc.


General High School with Shop Programs

Other high schools are not as focused on the skilled trades as vocational high schools but still provide solid training in skilled trades through shop programs. Petaluma High School, for instance, is considered a general high school, but offers multiple courses in subjects such as agriculture, construction and technology.


Pre-Apprenticeship Programs

These programs take learners with little to no background in the skilled trades and get them ready for an apprenticeship in 3-6 months. Often these programs are targeted at adults looking to get into the workforce quickly. CityBuild in San Francisco has 18-week tracks in construction, tech and other growth sectors.


Private for-profit

This is the high-end option. Programs are expensive–think $30,000 for 12 months–but they are effective at training and offer top-notch placement rates. These schools often focus their resources in a relatively narrow range of disciplines. Universal Technical Institute and Wyotech, for example, are both largely concerned with the automotive trades.


Private non-profit

This category has some interesting options at a more affordable price. Technical Employment Training in San Bernardino, CA is an innovative school that matches student skill sets with industry needs to get a placement rate above 80%. These sorts of schools can be fairly distinct from one another, and a bit harder to find so they deserve individual investigation by prospective students.

A wide range of factors will go into a student’s choice of school, including the student’s age, experience level, and what fields interest them. Even after those are factored in, most students will have more than one type of program as a potential fit.

Technical Employment Training’s Bill Clarke on Tailoring Training to Students

While most skilled trade schools follow a familiar model of education over two years on the September to May schedule, Technical Employment Training (TET) in San Bernardino, CA has charted its own course. The school trains students to achieve certifications in high-demand skill areas over six months. We spoke with Bill Clarke of TET to hear about how he does it.

Bill Clarke and TET Staff

The TET course first provides general knowledge while evaluating what specific skill area a student is best suited for.

“We provide two certifications. One is in quality control and math, so they understand some basic concepts of what they’re doing,” Clark explains. “The second credential is in a specific skill set. We look at their learning style, and say, ‘you know what, this individual would be good as a kinesthetic learner, good with their hands.’ Therefore, they might be able to run a conventional lathe, and they test in that skill set to give them certification. Then we put them to work in that skill set.”

A core part of the TET course is a 120-hour internship at a local shop. Often this can lead directly into a first job.

“The goal now is to have them finish their first certification two months into the program before they go into their 120 hour internship,” says Clark. “If it’s a good fit, we will train the student in the skill set that best fits with the company.”

Guiding students to a specific skill set that works with the student’s natural strengths is a key element of what TET does. Therefore, early student evaluation is critical:

“We give students curriculum that’s all interactive driven. We can actually look at what they’re performing better in compare to other units of instruction that they’re getting. Then we start putting the strength into that area and making the recommendation that they get their national credential in the skill set they best perform in.”

Clark believes this is a key ingredient to what sets TET apart:

“This is something that’s not being done at any normal trade school. And we don’t take a lot of people, I probably train roughly 120 in a year in my manufacturing and probably 60 in my construction skill set. My instructional cost is about $8000 a person, that’s what I get to train a person in 630 hours with two federal certifications.”

TET’s program is partly a response to the realities of education and the economy. While a Bachelor’s degree may have once guaranteed employment, that is no longer the case.

“Without skills, we become non-productive in society,” Clark observes. “We have PhDs that are working at Starbucks. When school loans come due, I don’t have to tell you what that’s all about.”

The skilled trades gap is only widening as the baby boom generation hits retirement age.

“Every industry I deal with has a lot of personnel between 50 and 70, and they’re all leaving.”

As a result, many companies are looking to other countries for their workers. To this issue, Clark has a long-term solution: start them early.

“We have found that if you don’t get a person engaged with technology at an early age, parents don’t really encourage that going forward. We’re starting early. We’re starting in second grade. Schools have been very very receptive.”

Solving the skilled trades gap will take a variety of approaches. TET’s accelerated model gets workers educated and into jobs at an efficient clip. With a huge demand for skilled workers, this is an excellent time for outside-the-box thinking on educating tomorrow’s skilled workers.

Trade Schools by the Numbers

To gain a broad understanding of skilled trades training, let’s take a look at some of the statistics that define skilled trade training programs.

The Economy as a Whole

While a Bachelor’s degree is certainly an asset, in today’s economy one is hardly necessary. A 2012 study found that 70% of the American workforce did not have one. This fits with the American employment profile. The greatest portion of jobs—42%—are considered “middle-skill”, and these typically require an Associate’s degree or some college. However, only about 8% of the American workforce has an Associate’s degree, which starts to hint at the skills gap that skilled trades industries face every day: in most skilled trade industries, there are far more jobs than workers.

Public High Schools

According to a 2008 study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 3.7% of public high schools are career/technical high schools. A quick dive into the numbers shows that students at technical high schools have a different experience than other high schoolers. Technical high schools are more likely than others to provide structural continuity through block scheduling and having the same teacher over two years. They are also much more likely to have special admissions requirements than a standard public HS.

While many high schools provide a general education, 61% of technical high schools have a “career academy”– a school within a school that sets students on a specified career path. There programs offer students two central choices: go to college or start a career right away. From the conversations we’ve had with instructors, about 90% do one or the other.

Associate’s Degree Programs

According to 2007 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2,687 technical/career schools offer an associates degree in the United States. Of these, just under half are public schools, including community colleges, and 80% of those are two year programs. There are 529 private for-profit programs, and all of them are two-years. The private not-for-profit schools have a different profile. There are 895 and just under half are four-year programs. Most of the rest are less than two years—which is unheard of among public schools. These numbers paint a broad picture. Community colleges follow set patterns based on the September-May school year, and two years is the norm. Private for-profit schools follow this same pattern.

Private non-profits are where you get variety—most 4-year programs and programs under two years are private non-profit. These are the schools where educators are trying new models and new ideas. Technical Employment Training (TET), for example, is only six months for most students, and boasts an 82% hiring rate. They achieve this by tailoring the program to employer needs and carefully placing students in tracks where they are most likely to succeed.

“We give them two certifications,” explains Bill Clark of TET, “one in quality control and math, so they understand some basic concepts of what they’re doing. The second certification is in a specific skill set based on what they’re good at and what kind of learner they are. Then we put them to work in that skill set.”

By honing in on a student’s natural proclivities, TET trains students for the workforce in the equivalent of one school year.

Tuition and income

Manufacturing and agriculture are the most popular trade training sectors. An Associate’s degree averages $2,700 a year in tuition. Agriculture degrees are a bit less: $1,900/$9,300 a year for an Associate’s degree while manufacturing degrees are the most affordable with an Associate’s degree costs $8,000 a year, on average, once basic expenses are totaled.

And how do these jobs pay? A starting manufacturing engineer makes over $62k, according to Entry-level mechanic technicians and farm equipment mechanics start significantly lower: about $40k. These are national figures, and can vary significantly based on company and location.

The costs of a skilled trades education vary significantly by field, but are generally lower than a traditional Bachelor’s degree and all direct students toward solidly middle-class wages in reliable fields.

Funding Your Skilled Trade Training Program

Funding is a necessity to keep schools running with strong programs and updated equipment. While the bulk of most school’s funding comes from government grants, company donations can also be a key supplement to your program. A good way to organize your funding efforts is to go from national to local covering everything from the federal government to the dealership down the road.

Federal grants require a lot of work, but the payout makes them an essential source for most skilled trades schools. Here is a helpful list of grants available to a variety of programs from the Department of Education. It’s also important to keep an eye out for new initiatives. The Department of Labor is offering up to $100 million in grants for apprenticeship programs. Applications for that particular grant are due on April 30th.

How about your state government? There’s only one way to find out. Search your state’s website for programs around labor, education and workforce development. Often you’ll get the fastest results by picking up the phone.Skilled trade training equipment from donations

The next step is to consider your school’s potential employer partners. Corporate-sponsored programs can provide an essential infusion into your training program. Take Chabot College’s BMW program, for example. Chabot gets needed equipment for their program, and BMW ensures that their future employees are learning to work with their exact tools and equipment. Both sides strengthen a key partnership.

“I have a bridgeport that we should have paid $7K for, paid $1.5K. I should’ve paid $2K for a horizontal band saw that I got for free,” says Braham Area High School’s Luke Becker, who raised $65,000 in grants and donations last year.

Lastly, remember this rule: you can’t expect anything if you don’t ask. It’s best to ask for the specific items and amounts that you need, and explain how they will make the educational experience better for your students. This shows that you have the knowledge and planning to provide a top-level education, and the things you could use more of are materials, equipment, and funds.

“I had 9 companies write bigger checks than we were looking for,” says Becker.

If fundraising ever seems awkward or tedious, watch your students at work and imagine what they could do with the latest equipment or a course module on a growing industry sector.

4 Ways Employers Can Become All Stars with Local Trade Schools

Manufacturing Tech Example

When employers and skilled trade schools have a healthy relationship, everyone benefits. Employers hire trade school students, but they’re also vital to designing curriculum, staying on top of industry trends, demonstrating pathways to students, and donating materials.

Yet — in our survey, we found it was often unclear to employers how they should get involved with their local trade schools. In fact, some employers confessed they didn’t always know local trade schools were operating in their area.

Here are four ways employers can best work with trade schools.

1. Get Involved Early

“Unfortunately, [some employers] think if they call in April that they can hire their May graduates,” says Olaf Wick of Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College. “You need to start in October, courting, to have any luck filling positions.”

Most important – get involved early in the school year, not just in May. By having a few touches in the fall semester, schools and employers will be primed for a fruitful Spring. A great way to do this is to facilitate shop visits for students. Shop visits get the ball rolling on student-employer relationships and increase student buy-in by showing them what they are working towards.

“[Employers] are all getting smart: they call early,” adds Barry Knight at Rogers Heritage High School in Arkansas.

2. Hire Part Time

Hiring students part-time benefits everyone. Students get real-world experience to complement their classroom learning, and employers get a good sense for whether that student’s a fit for their shop well before making a full-time commitment. Many students need to work to make ends meet anyway, and so part-time work at a shop creates an ideal situation for them.

“What works is employers who hire part-time,” says Wick. “They can take a look and see how they work. Students can see what it’s like. Most are employable after their 1st semester.”

3. Donate

Many schools function at the limits of their budget and can use all the help they can get with additional materials and equipment. Employers can alleviate this pain by donating equipment, materials and funds — just make sure it’s the current equipment, not the old stuff you’re not using anymore.

“I get a $5K budget for materials, which essentially covers the disposable things. I spent close to $70K, because I got $65K in sponsorships, grants, etc,” says Instructor Luke Becker of Braham High School in Minnesota.

4. Join the industry board

Every school has a board of advisors from local industry. This board often meets just twice a year, but these meetings are crucial to designing curriculum that’s up-to-date with today’s industry needs. Ever hear an employer complain that today’s graduates just don’t have the skills they need? Tell that employer to get on their local trade school’s industry board. That’s where these decisions are made.

Joe Mulleary, Cerritos College Automotive, Talks Industry and Student Relationships

No one knows  skilled trade training  better than the people who work with their students every day. Joe Mulleary, an automotive instructor at Cerritos College in Norwalk, CA, spoke with WorkHands about the strategies guiding students from school to their first job. Tops on that list?  Joe stressed the importance of getting students real-world work experience while they are still in the program.

Joe Mulleary - Cerritos College, Automotive Instructor

“We have a general program, then we have a manufacture-specific program,” he explains.  “For the manufacture-specific programs, part of their time is working at a shop or dealership. They’re only in school for 9 weeks, and they’re at work the other 9 weeks. For those students, we push them to get hired right at the beginning of the two-year program. Then each semester they take a class, but for the second part of the semester they can dive right in and actually be working.”

This back and forth between classroom time and job experience allows students to solidify knowledge and make career connections. This is made possible by a lot of legwork upfront by Mulleary and his colleagues.

“Most of the shops we work with now were never aware of us,” he recalls. “We put together a letter and had our program assistant mail it to everybody in LA/Orange County—maybe 200 different shops. It explained what our program is and asked if they’re interested in having an apprentice. I had maybe 10 or so call me and say they’re interested.”

This helped plant some seeds, but it was up to Joe and his team to nourish these relationships.

“A lot of it from our end also has to do with making ourselves available, pounding the pavement. When we get a chance to talk to shop owners, we make sure they know about us and what we offer, especially if they’re really close to our campus. Sometimes we can arrange visits.”

Establishing these connections is a major part of the job.

“It’s really on us to have a good relationships with the dealers and service managers. The student has to interview and present themselves, but there is that personal aspect of making yourself known as an instructor, too.”

Students, of course, are the other half of the equation, and they, too, require individual attention.

“Number one is that we work with students on resumes,” says Joe. If a student doesn’t secure a job on the first pass, Joe essentially goes through a checklist of possible causes.

“I ask students, ‘where have you actually been going? Bring me a business card; show me that you’ve been working at it.’ We do our best to also help along the way with the process. We’ll ask students, ‘how did it go when you went over there? How did you dress? What questions did they ask you?’ It takes working with students on an individual, one-on-one basis to say what’s going on. Are they not getting hired because of how they interviewed? Do they have a bad driving record?”

Students need to be comfortable working online and in-person to find that next job.

“Especially if they’re new at it, a lot of students are a little reluctant to go on their own, walk into a place, and ask to talk to somebody who’s in a mangerial position. There’s a lot of one-on-one interaction in terms of seeing where they are at in the process. Have they already pounded the pavement and been turned down, or are they just at home doing online applications? With some students, I find out that they’re not actually going in person.”

The benefits of securing employment go beyond just getting a paycheck.

“There’s a lot more buy in for students if they have a job. Students here are interested, but once they get hired, you can see something really click—we’re not just talking about sensors. I’m actually getting to work on that sensor, and I’m getting paid. There’s a huge buy-in that takes place once that occurs.”

Alumni Relations are Vital for Skilled Trade Training

Female machinist soon to be alumni

Once a student graduates a trade program, the school’s responsibility toward them is largely over, but that doesn’t mean the relationship should end. Alumni are one of the most underutilized, but vital resources in  skilled trade training . Staying in touch takes effort, but good alumni relations are a huge asset to a school and its students.

To have a healthy alumni network, the first step is to keep up-to-date info on them. This includes the basics–name, address, email, phone–but also where they work and the roles they hold. An online database, whether it’s Google Drive, Dropbox or something similar, makes that easier. Additionally, it’s important to periodically check with alumni on where they are and what they’re doing. Email and a Google Form are efficient ways to collect this information at once, but some will require extra effort.

“We get all their info before they graduate, and follow up with them to find their placement,” says Lisa Wixo, Student Success Coordinator at North Dakota State College of Science. “We call if they don’t answer their emails.”

It’s difficult to overstate how much alumni can do for a school. They make natural contacts at area companies, which helps facilitate job links and site visits. They can also act as mentors for students who want to get a better sense of day-to-day life in a given field. For those who move into a hiring role, they make an ideal hiring partner for the school. This can create a virtuous cycle of alumni helping future cohorts.

“I see [alumni relations] as extremely valuable,” says Doug Bowman, HTEC Director at Vincennes University. “In terms of marketing our program they’re our best marketers- a lot of our new students come from word of mouth through our graduates…. Since we have been doing this for a long time, our graduates are now in a position where they’re hiring new graduates or sending new students to the program.”

All of this is much easier when your students and alumni feel a natural connection to the school. Gatherings every six months can go a long way toward making the school feel like a community. These don’t have to be fancy affairs–just bring people together for a night they’ll actually enjoy. Larger schools should consider electing a coordinator from each cohort to help facilitate these meetings.

Creating a strong alumni network involves an initial investment, but the rewards are well worth it. Even if you don’t see immediate results from the time and money it takes to strengthen alumni connections, know that increasing the level of contact your school has with alumni can only pay dividends down the road.

Staying in Touch with Industry Contacts

Industry Connections at Lansing Factory

Good industry contacts are the lifeblood of a good skilled trade training program and having a method for managing contacts is the only sure way to keep those systems fresh. The best programs combine a consistent human touch with a system to keep track of contacts and not let potentially valuable connections fall by the wayside. In this post, we will explore some methods we found in our survey of training programs for keeping in touch with employers and alumni.

There are certain benchmarks a school can use to evaluate their outreach. One staff member devoted to outreach for every 50 students is a good rule of thumb. Fewer than that tends to overburden what outreach staff a school does have, and makes it difficult for them to give each connection their due. While email newsletters help to stay in touch, personalized conversations are what really drive initial relationships. Ongoing two-way conversations keep schools up to date on industry needs while keeping companies up to date on relevant school updates. This allows a school to become the solution to an industry’s needs.

“I bet we visited with one or two businesses a week that were desperate because they couldn’t find a diesel tech, says Debra Shephard of the Lake Area Technical Institute. “We developed a playbook to explain all the things that we can do to help solve this problem. You have to be responsible for the long-term solution.”

How should a school keep track of contacts and most recent touches? There are a number of tools. Two that we recommend looking into are HighRise and MailChimp so you have all of your contact information and contact in one place.

These systems have a bit of a learning curve, but the time spent getting comfortable with your contact manager will come back to you many times over. Staying organized streamlines the transition process when an outreach staff member leaves or changes positions. A good system also helps minimize growing pains when a school grows in size or just helps alleviate one of instructors many responsibilities.

“All my jobs came through contacts, personal connection even though I was union,” recalls Tim Shoemaker, an Instructor at Long Beach City College. “There’s a lot of work outside the classroom.”

A good contact management system has the huge side benefit of making it easier for schools to keep track of their alumni. Alumni are an invaluable resource for learning about employers and their needs. Those that get promoted into a hiring role become an ideal industry contact.

Any school, regardless of size or age, would do well to take a good look at their current system for keeping track of their contact ecosystem. Does this system serve your needs? If there is room for improvement, is the answer to make better use of your current system or develop a new one? Thoughtful, detailed answers to these questions can provide action steps to setting your program up for long term success.

(Oh, and WorkHands can help with all of this too — connecting your industry partners, alumni, and students all in one place. Interested? Sign up to find out more.)