Why Professional Trades represent the future for Michigan students

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For Adrian native Ashlyn Childs, pursuing a career in welding was an easy choice to make. Her high school offered a welding program, the subject matter really interested her and it was practical from a job-seeking perspective.  

“There’s a great deal of job availability in this field and the pay is really good,” said the 19-year-old, who recently wrapped up a paid apprenticeship at Adrian Steel. “And I love welding. This was pretty much a no-brainier.”

The fact that welding is a male-dominated field added to the challenge.

“I like to say that I’m not a woman welder, but a welder who happens to be a woman,” Childs said. “But this field has a ton of opportunity, especially for women, and I’m absolutely happy with my decision. I believe other young individuals should consider a Professional Trade for their own independence and to grow financially and mentally.”

The pros of Going PRO

Childs’ career arc fits into the state’s Going PRO in Michigan campaign, which was developed by the Talent and Economic Development Department of Michigan to elevate the perception of Professional Trades and showcase opportunities in a variety of rewarding careers.

“Technological innovation has created a new universe of career opportunities, but many of these careers require a sophisticated level of hands-on experience,” said Marcia Black-Watson, industry engagement administrator for the state’s Talent Investment Agency. “Apprenticeships impart practical knowledge that can’t be accomplished in traditional pre-hire education and training models. They create a pipeline for tomorrow’s workforce that will have all the necessary skills Michigan employers are seeking.”

Professional Trades include a wide range of careers, from welders, millwrights and HVAC mechanics to massage therapists, medical sonographers and web developers. Very few demand anything more than a two-year college degree, with most requiring simply a high school diploma and moderate to long-term on-the-job training. Electrical power line installers and repairers can make more than $73,000 per year, and the field has an estimated 10% growth through 2024. Meanwhile, some of the highest-demand positions are in computer numerically controlled machine tool programming, which has a projected 28.7% growth over the next six years — and a starting median wage of nearly $50,000, according to statistics compiled by the Michigan Department of Technology, Management & Budget’s Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives. 

“There are many job openings available in forward-thinking manufacturing companies for innovative, dependable people,” said Carey Combs-Oberlin, human resource manager at Cameron Tool Corp., a Lansing-based die manufacturer. “However, most of these potential employees simply aren’t aware of these opportunities because their parents, teachers and counselors are uninformed about recent technological changes to the industry. I think we all need to be re-educated on how to work together to inform students of a wide variety of paths to success.”

Unlimited job prospects

New Professional Trades careers are being created every day in Michigan as technology is applied to a wide range of career fields, including manufacturing, health care and construction.

But over the next six years, more than 811,000 of these and existing positions will go unfilled as baby boomers reach retirement age without enough young workers being trained to step into those roles and as technology continues to transform the workplace. Professional Trades also boast 45% higher wages compared with all occupations, with an anticipated 50% faster growth than the statewide average through 2024, Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives projections show.

James McMillan, 19, is pursuing his General Motors certification to become an auto technician. He’s seen firsthand how much the automotive industry has changed over the last two years.

“Right now, I spend about half my time physically working on the cars, and the other half using computer programs to run diagnostics and do troubleshooting,” McMillan said. “Twenty years ago, everything was mechanical, but so much of it has become computerized. It’s pretty much impossible to service a car unless you have a working knowledge of the electronic systems at play. Knowledge is golden.”

Professional Trades play to both classroom learners and on-the-job trainees, with many companies willing to cover the cost of a new hire’s education for both career advancement and employee education.

Interestingly, while McMillan says he prefers to tackle a problem with his hands, Childs said she’s more of a book learner. She’s about to start her second year at Ferris State University, where she’s majoring in welding engineering technology and minoring in business. Next year, she said, she hopes to find an internship somewhere overseas — but it’s not just a job she’s after.

“As a female entering this field, I want to make it more inclusive for any individual who would like to be involved in Professional Trades or engineering. I would ultimately like to revolutionize it.”

More information on finding a career in the Professional Trades is available at Going-PRO.com.

Members of the editorial and news staff of The Detroit News were not involved in the creation of this content.

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