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More manufacturers are turning toward vocational training and apprenticeship programs to help close the skills gap. According to The Huffington Post, a wide variety of apprenticeship programs focus on construction and manufacturing, creating a largely untapped resource of new skilled labor that manufacturers could easily access. However, some manufacturers will continue to avoid vocational programs in the interim, but they should consider the following ways vocational training will be a major player in addressing the growing skills gap.  

Vocational Training Blends On-the-Job Training With Education.

Unlike traditional, in-classroom education settings, vocational programs blend on-the-job learning opportunities with course credits and education. Furthermore, students in these programs may qualify to begin working in entry-level positions in their respective fields, enabling better management of financial needs while completing their vocational training.  

Vocational training is also substantially less expensive than obtaining a degree traditionally in an educational institution. In other words, the cost of obtaining the skills necessary to complete a vocational program are by definition used for practical purposes in the field. As explained by Lauren Weber of The Wall Street Journal, this is part of what makes vocational programs attractive to students, especially those who may not have the time or financial resources available to complete a traditional course of study.  

Vocational Programs Encourage the Development of Apprenticeship Programs Among Youth.

Carolina stands out as one of the state’s creating awareness and helping to bridge the growing skills gap. In 2007, the state created Apprenticeship Carolina, a program designed specifically to increase public recognition of accredited apprenticeship programs, and the program has been expanded to include Youth Apprenticeship Carolina, reports The Manufacturing Institute.  

Youth Apprenticeship Carolina is designed specifically for students still in high school. The program allows students to gain vocational training through apprenticeships without being required to pay the traditionally higher costs of vocational training in college settings. In addition, employers that operate apprenticeships under Apprenticeship Carolina are eligible to receive a $1,000 tax credit, encouraging opportunities for students and businesses alike.  

Tuition Assistance Programs Encourage Students to Enter Manufacturing To Combat the Growing Skills Gap  

Another key way vocational training is helping to close the growing skills gap is through tuition assistance programs. This is not to be confused with federal student aid programs. This type of funding is similar, but a company pays for the cost of completing vocational training for the student, explains Business Champions. In some cases, the company may ask students in the program to sign a contract to ensure that vested company gets the benefit of a new skilled worker first. However, the mounting stress on the skills gap will likely encourage more companies to offer contract-free tuition assistance programs.  

Some have traditionally avoided tuition-assistance programs in favor of putting the risks on students by obtaining loans and grants from the Department of Education. These programs were often seen as tuition reimbursement, encouraging workers to continue working for a specific company. However, recent events suggest this trend is coming to a sudden stop. Specifically, the shutdown of ITT Technical Institutes is driving this sudden spur of company-paid tuition.

ITT Closes Its Doors, Creates Ultimatum for Manufacturers.   

Without getting into the details of the ITT shut down, the Department of Education basically decided the costs and financial documentation and needs of students within this for-profit institution exceeded reasonable standards. Subsequently, the Department of Education implemented a rule requiring ITT to obtain approval before enrolling students on federal student aid or paying bonuses, severance packages or other financial benefits to employees, reports Danielle Douglas-Gabriel of The Washington Post.  

Although the Department of Education’s ruling did not require the institution to stop operating, it did result in the virtual destruction of its stock on the day of the ruling. Consequently, ITT shut down most operations except for a few skeleton employees needed to assist students in transitioning into other educational opportunities.  

In manufacturing, the ITT shut down represents a grave threat. ITT has been responsible for supplying many of the skilled workers to the manufacturing sector, including welders, sheet metal fabricators, and technicians. Unfortunately, the decision will require more manufacturers to seriously consider implementing tuition-assistance programs or apprenticeship programs to make up for the shortage ITT’s closing will create. Ultimately, the skills gap will only grow worse in light of this development.  

The Big Picture.

Vocational training is key to unlocking the manufacturing potential of the next generation of skilled workers. If manufacturers can embrace this opportunity, the problems presented by the skills gap can be overcome. However, failure to recognize the benefits of expanding vocational training and apprenticeship programs will leave some manufacturers struggling to stay afloat. Rather than waiting until it is too late, manufacturers must acknowledge the role vocational training will play and create opportunities that encourage students to enroll today.  

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