Skills Gap Awareness: Are We Making Progress?

By Rosemarie Ascherl-Lenhard, PR Foreman

It’s been a while since we talked about one of our hot buttons: the ongoing skills gap in manufacturing and the trades. It’s good to see that the topic is very much alive and getting continual, positive coverage in the media. Are we slowly experiencing a shift to bring young people back into skilled traded positions? Is the stigma for blue collar positions slowly lifting?

Plenty of industry leaders are doing their part to help bring awareness.

Lincoln Electric recognizes this issue and is leading the challenge to change the perception of manufacturing jobs, which as CEO Christopher Mapes points out, “When people think about welding, they typically don’t think high-tech. Instead, they picture workers with their heads enveloped in welding helmets. That’s not what welding is today…Welding is robotics. It’s metallurgy. It’s software engineering.” Read more about Lincoln’s initiatives for tackling the skill gap here.

Skilled trade’s biggest proponent, Dirty Jobs’ Mike Rowe, who recently published, “The Way I Heard It,” believes, “The skills gap today, in my opinion, is a result of the removal of shop class and the repeated message that the best path for most people happens to be the most expensive path.”


While 40 years ago we needed more people to get into higher education, the pendulum swung so far in the direction of promoting higher education, that it has alienated an entire section of the workforce, skilled trades. With 7.3 million skilled jobs unfilled in our country (and 1.6 trillion in debt from higher education), we desperately need the pendulum to swing back.

It seems the messaging is starting to get through.

This recent article articulates how trade schools are now touting how blue-collar professionals such as plumbers, electricians and mechanics make more money than workers whose roles require a college degree.

Perhaps the trend against four-year-college degrees has begun. Many of the fastest-growing professions do not require a bachelor’s degree, and some do not even require a high-school diploma. Could the new six-figure job be trade work?

Let’s hope that more and more of our young people (or people considering a career change) look at skilled trade positions as a viable option for their career path.

If you found this post interesting, check out these additional posts on the topic:

Skills Gap: We’re Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Using the Gender Gap to Close the Skills Gap



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The Needle Begins to Move on the Skilled Trades Gap

By Chris Ilcin, Account Superintendent, Sonnhalter

Wait, Did You Feel That?

The needle began to move on the skilled trades gap.

Don’t look now, but the problem you’ve known about for a generation, the lack of people coming into the skilled trades, is finally going mainstream.

It’s subtle, but change is beginning to show.

Source: This Old House

First there are the local advocates, who have been talking about the problem for years. You know them, they’re in your local Union Hall, Welding School, or in the rapidly dwindling number of High School Vo-Tech programs. Or they’re part of the increasingly aging workforce itself, all too aware that there are more of them retiring than entering the workforce, and hanging around looking for someone to step up.

And there are now countless local efforts. Here in Northeast Ohio, the Cuyahoga Community College launched a mobile workforce training center. Tri-C customizes it with virtual welders, CNC machines or other demos as the employer or school needs. Also in the Cleveland area, Lincoln Electric, whose Carl Peters is an advocate for training program development, recently capped off the framing of their new, $30 million welding technology center project.

Nationally the news is just as encouraging. Mike Rowe, who has capitalized on his TV fame to promote the trades through his foundation, is getting ready to take applications for 2017 scholarships. He’s also a great social media follow, and recently testified before congress.

Even more promising, This Old House, the venerable PBS show, launched Generation Next a partnership with MikeRoweWORKS designed to highlight the jobs available in the skilled trades and destigmatize these jobs for today’s youth.

NPR’s excellent Marketplace program recently had several in-depth features on training skilled workers, produced by senior education correspondent Amy Scott.

Plus, there are the national groups dedicated to the trades, Skills USA, Manufacturing Day and more.

So what are you doing? What plan does your company have, and how effectively is it implemented? A few places to get started/re-energized:

  • Find national and local training programs with Sonnhalter’s list
  • Approach local schools and investigate opportunities to show off the work you do by participating in Manufacturing Day
  • Don’t let everyone leave early at your next trade show’s student day. Instead, find out what schools are coming and be proactive
  • Work with your Trade Organization or Union, volunteer to be a part of their training efforts

There have never been more resources and creative thinking addressing this looming crisis. Is it enough? Probably not, but the needle has moved, and it’s in your company’s best interest to do what you can to help build momentum.

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Does Your Company Have an Open-Door Policy?

Today we have a blog post from Rosemarie Ascherl, PR Foreman at Sonnhalter, discussing factory tours and how they reflect your company’s brand image.

SonnhalterLincolnElectricTourLast month, Sonnhalter employees had the opportunity to get their hands dirty with a visit to a local manufacturer, Lincoln Electric, that designs, develops and manufactures arc welding products, robotic arc welding systems, fume extraction equipment and plasma and oxyfuel cutting equipment.

We were greeted by our contact, given “VIP” badges and ushered into a comfortable lecture room where each employee’s name was on a placard alongside a packet containing Lincoln Electric information, safety glasses and headsets. After a short greeting by our host, our group was invited to snacks and beverages while watching a short video that covered a history and overview of the company and safety rules for our tour. After the video, we were turned over to our tour guide, a long-time employee, who regularly conducts tours.

Sonnhalter’s experience at Lincoln Electric was a terrific impression reflecting professionalism, pride, friendliness and openness that ultimately mirrors the Lincoln brand.

Does your company have a factory tour policy? Is it an open-door policy? Or is your company one that refuses visitors for fear of losing carefully guarded company secrets?

How your company handles the requests for factory visits, whether it is by an interested community member or a potential customer, is a reflection of your brand.

And once you decide to let visitors in your doors, how you handle their experience is another reflection of your brand.

Suggestions for creating a positive experience:

1. Select knowledgeable, experienced, personable people as tour guides.

2. While tours should be flexible based on your audiences’ needs, provide consistency in the messaging that is being revealed.

3. Establish rules that management or ownership is comfortable with, i.e. no photos, no cell phones.

4. Remember safety at all times.

5. Be friendly.

Having a policy on factory tours is important, and how the tours are handled ultimately affects your company’s brand image. Make it positive!

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