The demand for welders is so high that Vermeer Manufacturing recently came to Des Moines Area Community College for help, and brought their own trainers to teach.
“Of those 20 that finished the course, 16 were given jobs at Vermeer,” said Newton Development Corporation Executive Director Frank Liebl. “It’s been pounded into our heads that you got to get that four-year degree. You don’t need, necessarily, a four-year degree to work in manufacturing. That’s what Skilled Iowa is saying.”
The issue manufacturers are facing is a lack of middle skilled workers. The demand is growing, but few are going into the field. The Skilled Iowa program can help fix that by issuing National Career Readiness Certification, but it does not always guarantee a job.
“No, it won’t be guaranteed (jobs), but it will open doors for them,” Liebl said.
Another issue manufacturers face is that no one knows what they do.
“If your high school counselor would have said, ‘there is an opportunity to be a tool and die operator or a machinist,’ would you have known what they meant?” Liebl said.
In order to try to generate interest, some manufacturers have considered opening up their facilities to high schools. Trade school is generally a lot cheaper than going to a four-year university, and can pay off.
“A lot of people think manufacturing jobs are not very good,” Liebl said. “There are some very good paying jobs in manufacturing right now. You can go to a four-year-school and be lucky to start with $30-35K a year. You can go to a one-year tech school and probably get a welding job for $35-40K a year.”
Liebl has been approached by welders, machinist and tool and die operators, all of which have work shortages and do not require a four-year-degree for certification.
“When people think of welding, we’re thinking of the mask, the torch and the dirty clothes,” Liebl said. “Yeah, there are still some of those, but some of those welding jobs we’re talking about are robotics welding. That’s stuff where you have to do things in the computer. It’s more like doctors going in, doing microscopic surgery. That’s where a lot of this skilled labor is coming in.”
Vermeer had more who applied for welding training, however, 20 percent of them could not pass eighth grade math. The Skilled Iowa program provides free training that can help those 20 percent. Liebl encourages people who need additional training to get it.
“They need to take a class,” Liebl said. “Get retrained for something.”
Some companies have gone as far as sending staff back to school, but their staff members must agree to return to work for them for a certain amount of time. For most manufacturers, finding workers with soft skills — computer literacy, showing up on time, work well with people and follow instructions — can be difficult.
DMACC will have scheduled test times for the general public. In order to take the NCRC assessment, individuals must sign up.
Matthew Shepard can be contacted at (641) 792-3121 ext. 425 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.