Editor's Note: For the past two decades, the shortage of skilled workers has steadily increased. The crunch is growing tighter as Baby Boomers retire, and there are not enough workers to replace them. This is the second of a three-part series exploring what Knox County is doing to ensure a pipeline of talent into the skilled trades. Part I published on Nov. 18.
MOUNT VERNON — Since the 1970s, society has emphasized college or university degrees rather than technical training. Many parents believe that a college degree is their child's ticket to “the good life,” or at least a comfortable, middle-class life.
Is that really the case?
For many high school seniors, it is, especially if they get a job in their field of study. But for the 40% who don't choose college or the military, technical training can provide an excellent pathway to success. And in hindsight, the skilled trades might be a better option for those who ultimately drop out of college.
Consider some statistics:
- Number of students completing their college degree: less than 50%
- Outstanding student debt as of Sept. 30: $1.638 trillion
- Number of students with a bachelor's degree or higher who have outstanding debt: nearly 50%
- Average student debt: $25,000 bachelor's, $45,000 postgraduate
- Average earnings for high school graduates earning in the 50th to 90th percentile: $34,000-$70,000 annually
- Average earnings for college graduates earning in the 10th to 50th percentile: $28,000 to $58,000
Locally, the demand for skilled workers in healthcare and manufacturing is high. A July 2019 workforce assessment projects a need for 2,400 healthcare workers through 2026. In manufacturing, the number is 4,200. Specifically, the need is for personal-care aides, nursing assistants, electricians, assemblers, mechanics, and welders.
“The projected growth for our area is a net of about 2,600,” said Jeffry Harris, president of the Area Development Foundation. “That won't even fill the empty spots, much less fill the need for replacement workers.”
Where will local employers find the skilled workers they need?
In part, through the Knox County Foundation.
Expanding its impact
The Knox County Foundation has recognized and responded to the challenge of developing a pipeline of skilled workers to fill the needs of local employers. Program Director Lisa Lloyd said at an August retreat, the board asked some hard questions, including: “How are we helping those who are not getting a four-year degree?”
“We've been thinking about this for a while,” she said. “It crystallized with the Area Development Foundation survey. Healthcare and manufacturing don't require a four-year degree. Historically, most of our scholarships are four years, but that doesn't necessarily mean we have to keep it that way.”
As a result, at its November meeting the KCF board voted to allocate $30,000 toward a new program, KCF Vocational Scholarships.
“Our board is really behind this,” Lloyd said. “If it's a very successful program, they will expand it as needed.”
Lloyd said a few scholarships are already geared toward trade and technical schools, but many of the established donor funds are restricted and unable to be expanded.
“As new donors approach us, we are asking them to expand their flexibility to include (those areas),” she said. “So far, 100 percent have said yes.”
Lloyd is developing an online scholarship application geared toward not just a recent high school graduate, but also toward an adult who has been out of school for awhile.
“We want to capture both high school students and adults with this application,” she said. “We won't ask about GPA or extracurricular activities. If you graduated high school 10 years ago, it's not applicable.”
The application will include questions such as what the applicant plans to do with the training certificate, what course they are interested in, and the total cost of the program.
“They'll also write two short essays on what they plan to do and why they need a financial scholarship,” Lloyd said.
Lloyd anticipates the application to be available online by Jan. 1, 2020. The vocational application is unique in that it has three different submission deadlines: March 15, July 15, and Oct. 15.
“Those dates best align with when programs typically start,” she said.
Although the foundation does not restrict the institution a scholarship applicant can attend, preference for the vocational scholarships will be given to those applying to Central Ohio Technical Center, Knox Technical Center, or other regional institutions.
“Because probably those students will end up staying in the area,” she explained.
Lloyd said students could potentially get more than one vocational scholarship. For example, a student could get a scholarship for STNA training, and then might apply for another scholarship to pursue advanced RN training.
In addition to funding and expanding its vocational scholarship opportunities, the KCF committed another $30,000 toward the three-year Career Navigator pilot program. Other funding partners for the position are the United Way of Knox County and the four county schools.
The CN will be in the Centerburg, Danville, East Knox, and Fredericktown high schools, working to create career awareness for manufacturing and healthcare. The Career Navigator will work with employers to determine what jobs are available and arrange for site tours of local industries. The CN will also be the liaison between employers and the WorkDev alliance, relaying employers' needs for specific training (such as stronger math skills).
“The Career Navigator will be very helpful for us because they will be promoting the scholarships,” Lloyd said.
The board is 100 percent on board with the vocational scholarship and Career Navigator position, Lloyd said.
“They thought this is much-needed in this community,” she said. “They are very excited to see us take this direction. It will be a nice addition to our scholarship program. We see this as a nice expansion to what we have available to all of the students in Knox County.”
Growing awareness of the skills gap
The Knox County Foundation is part of a growing body of philanthropic organizations that see the need for financially supporting the trades.
“We are seeing more interest in developing scholarships for trades and adult education programming,” said Brian Wagner, chief executive officer of the Muskingum County Community Foundation. “We have always had scholarships that helped out with going back for additional education, but we have had more donors who have come forward and said they are interested in giving specifically for trades."
Wagner said that with educators “really seeing the need for trades,” there is a growing trend toward being proactive and supporting students interested in the trades as well as four-year degrees.
Margaret Medzie, vice president of development for the Akron Community Foundation, said that although the ACF does not have any scholarships specifically earmarked for skilled trades, the foundation does have conversations with donors about opportunities that may be nontraditional.
“We want to leave it as open as possible for breadth and scope,” she said. “As a community foundation as a whole, we are always looking for a win-win for the donors and the community.
"We will always encourage donors to paint a broader scope of the brush in their scholarships and philanthropy.”