I don't know how many articles I've written predicting the shortage of skilled trades. I've talked about different ways of promoting a career in skilled trades for those high school students who have no intention of going to college; about upgrading the training to reflect today's higher level of technology; and about giving graduates in skilled trades a more professional status to reflect the new complexity of their training, and to counteract the stigma attached to people working in the factory.
I feel very strongly that if we did these things we would increase the appeal to young people to go into skilled trades.
The colleges and universities seem to have convinced the public that everybody should go to college. That really doesn't make any sense. Not everybody should go to college. Some young people simply aren't interested in going to college, but they may be interested in going into skilled trades. So what's wrong with that? It certainly would fulfill a need. And, if properly trained, an individual can make a very good living.
Let's consider a chef as an example of a trade that has become an alluring, well-paying career.
Cooking is much more sophisticated. Chefs have to know about cuisines from different parts of the world, balanced diets, how to prepare tasty low-fat or no-fat meals, nutrition and even the business of managing a restaurant.
This has resulted in certified training programs for chefs. You can now become a certified chef by getting an associate degree offered by many community colleges. Courses usually are taught by master chefs.
It's very difficult to become a master chef. To begin with, you must have a variety of actual experience before you are even eligible to take a very rigorous 10-day examination. This not only includes cooking, but a written exam that tests a candidate's knowledge in all aspects of food preparation, nutrition, diets and business knowledge.
After passing these exams a candidate becomes a master chef accredited by the Culinary Institute of America.
So, OK, where do we stand today in putting together a similar program for skilled trades? The article I read describes a slick CD-ROM prepared by the Michigan Jobs Commission called "Manufacturing Industry Career Opportunities" to be shown to high school students.
I'm sure it does a good job of showing the opportunities that exist. However, that's only part of it. It's like having a rowboat without any oars. Good training programs are the oars that will propel opportunities to meaningful jobs. To be effective, training programs must be updated to reflect the type of technology required in today's industry.
The sophistication of the knowledge that a skilled tradesman must acquire is far above that required in the past. Much of the training approaches, or equals, college levels. A well-designed four-year co-op program that gives the student the academic and hands-on training required should result in an associate degree in skilled trades.
The number of students entering the program should be determined by the future requirements for skilled trades projected by the companies and agreed upon by the union. This would assure a graduate a job and would avoid situations that have happened in the past in which apprentices finished the program, only to be laid off because no jobs were available.
The company and union also should agree which jobs a trainee can and cannot do by himself in the shop. The intent should always be to do what's required to produce a well-trained employee. This approach benefits the companies and union, in the long run.
Just like the master chef, a master mechanic, or a master of skilled trades if you like, classification should be established. To make it meaningful, a variety of experience should be a required to supplement formal training in other phases of the business.
After this eligibility has been established, some certification process should be created and accredited to be recognized throughout the industry.
German industry has a very effective training program similar to what I'm talking about. Perhaps theCorp./ -Benz AG merger will help get such a program introduced in the U.S. - Mr. Sharf is a retired Chrysler Corp. executive vice president for manufacturing