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The Van Wert County Courthouse

Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017

DAVE MOSIER/independent editor

There has been a paradigm shift over the last decade when it comes to job availability in the workforce. Unlike a couple of decades ago — when there were more workers than jobs — today, as more and more Baby Boomers retire, good paying jobs now go unfilled because of a dearth of skilled workers.

Vantage Electricity instructor Mel White (right) works with student Anthony Baxter. (Vantage photo)

Moreover, the need for skilled workers has created a double challenge for Vantage Career Center: how to train more people to fill those jobs, while also finding instructors with the knowledge and skillset to provide that training.

New Vantage Superintendent Rick Turner said there are lots of opportunities for those who want a good-paying job, because skilled manufacturing positions, such as welders and machinists, often go unfilled because of a lack of trained applicants.

As Baby Boomers age and reach retirement age, that situation will get even worse, Turner said.

“The average age of a welder is 56, the average age of a machinist is 54,” he noted.

The Vantage superintendent said he recently saw where there were 1,877 job openings listed within 20 miles of Lima, with 783 of those paying more than $50,000 a year.

Moreover, the increasing number of open jobs locally that pay a decent salary is also coupled with the area’s low cost of living, making it very beneficial for young people to stay here, instead of relocating to a larger city, where things cost more.

America’s aging population will also result in an increasing need for skilled healthcare positions, such as nurses, Turner added, noting that the nursing shortage won’t even peak until 2022. That also bodes well for Vantage’s ongoing initiative to establish an LPN program at the school.

Truck driving instructors are also an area where good people are hard to find, mostly because nearly all the skilled people are on the road driving trucks.

Unfortunately, unlike the Sixties and Seventies, there are relatively few unskilled manufacturing jobs today.

“There are jobs, but so many jobs, particularly in manufacturing, are becoming skilled jobs,” he said, noting that there is currently a “skills gap” between those jobs and the general workforce. That means more people will need additional training — or retraining — to fill those jobs.

The problem, for Vantage, is when skilled workers are at a premium, it’s also hard to find instructors, particularly part-time instructors, with the necessary skillsets and knowledge.

“Where it hits us with that ‘skills gap’ is in instructors,” Turner said, adding that finding part-time adult education instructors is particularly challenging, since those jobs, while paying a decent wage, don’t include benefits.

That doesn’t mean Vantage is out of the woods when it comes to full-time high school instructors either.

“We still have challenges there as well, depending on the area (of instruction),” Turner said.

That has forced Vantage and other vocational schools to do what college coaches do to come up with top talent: recruit. In today’s competitive environment, schools are using a variety of ways to find instructors with the knowledge and skillsets they need.

“We’re looking at newspaper ads, we’re looking at Ohio Means Jobs (Monster.com), and what I used in my former job (adult education director for Apollo Career Center): program advisory committees,” he explained.

Program advisory committees are comprised of industry professionals who advise vocational schools on what skills are needed for a particular job area. However, the panels are also a good place to find skilled people to fill vacant instructor’s positions, Turner added, calling the program he developed at Apollo “fair to moderately successful” in identifying and hiring skilled instructors.

In addition to the above recruiting avenues, vocational school administrators, such as Turner and Adult Education Director Pete Prichard, also contact area companies directly for help in finding instructors. And companies are beginning to listen, largely because they realize that providing good training to high school and adult education students who could then fill vacant jobs is a huge benefit for those companies.

However, more needs to be done to ensure schools have the instructors they need down the road.

Fortunately, with some workers retiring after 30 years, making them still in their 50s or early 60s, there are people who are still young enough to want to do something else after retirement, making them prime candidates for full- and part-time instructors’ positions.

“They’re good targets for us,” Turner said.

But the Vantage superintendent said retirees are not the only people Vantage is looking at to fill instructors’ positions.

“I don’t want make this sound like the Baby Boomers are our only target,” Turner said, “because our younger audience, who have knowledge of the technology, we certainly want as well.”

In fact, the Vantage superintendent said younger skilled workers could benefit even more than retirees from becoming an instructor, since they not only can make extra money — something even more important as retirement concerns deepen over the future of Social Security — but can expand their career opportunities as well.

Minimum requirements to become an instructor, Turner said, are 3-5 years’ experience in a job area and the ability to pass a background check and obtain licensing through the Ohio Department of Education.

“It’s not a lengthy or difficult process, but it’s just one that has to be done,” he said, noting that Vantage helps instructors with the licensing requirement.

Turner said he feels the role of vocational schools such as Vantage will become more and more important over the next few decades as more people will need training — or retraining — to fill the ever-increasing number of skilled manufacturing jobs that come open over the next couple of decades.

Other area school districts, such as Van Wert, are also developing career development programs after seeing that, with college graduation rates at only 30 percent, a number of students who may have gone to college would be better served with training that would prepare them for local manufacturing and other jobs. That situation should also increase the partnership opportunities between traditional schools and vocational facilities in the future.

Turner noted that Vantage, with its recent building update that created a state-of-the-art training facility, is well-positioned for providing those future training needs, and he commended the Vantage community for seeing the need and filling it.

“This community has been wonderful in having that vision and supporting it,” Turner said of seeing the need for a better facility. “It’s phenomenal what they have accomplished.”

“Now that we’re in basically a full employment economy, the vision to update this place is huge going forward,” he concluded.

POSTED: 07/17/17 at 8:00 am. FILED UNDER: News