Let’s Not Forget Technicians in STEM

Let’s Not Forget Technicians in STEM

This piece was originally published in the October 2016 issue of electroindustry.

Bob Clark, Assistant Professor, HVACR, College of DuPage, Glen Ellyn, Illinois

Medical Engineers Examining Equipment

The demand for skilled workforce jobs is growing at a fast pace as workers are being displaced by technology and retirements loom on the horizon.

Technicians are in high demand in every industry, yet education does little to influence and educate youth about those exciting, high-demand careers. As our economy develops in terms of automation and energy efficiency, we need to better market manufacturing careers through science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs.

Cluster Careers with Need

Let’s start with the younger generation. Beginning in the K-12 system, students need to learn about the lucrative and varied opportunities available in technical careers.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs for general maintenance, HVACR, industrial maintenance, utility, and line installer technicians currently total approximately 2.5 million. That number does not include new jobs in the areas of controls, smart grid, medical, and production automation that have been created because of technological advances.

The career cluster model used by most K-12 educators was created by the National Association of State Directors of Career and Technical Education Consortium (NASDCTEC). Look, for example, at the NASDCTEC career cluster for architecture and construction, which accounts for a total of 2.2 million jobs. Architect and landscape architect careers number only 113,540, and the five construction trades account for 2.1 million. With the BLS projection of 2.5 million jobs needed for technical jobs, it seems obvious that technicians need their own career cluster. It is evident in these underrepresented numbers that we are not marketing a group of careers that will have an enormous economic impact on our communities, our tax dollars, our industry, or—most important—the people in these jobs.

In the last 75 years, technician careers have changed the world and our standard of living. Our skilled workforce builds and services America. Technical-related careers are exciting and fulfilling, even more so when salary is factored in. Technician careers usually pay more than an entry-level position requiring a four-year college degree—without the incurred debt. If we change how we educate our children about technician careers, we will see a change in the workforce gaps and the skills gaps that are crippling America.

I teach HVACR and facility maintenance at the College of DuPage (COD) in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. At COD, we are working with local workforce boards to develop a cohort model technician-training program for maintenance and other technical workers. We are also developing a marketing campaign for technician awareness in the K-12 school systems in our million-plus member community.

This marketing campaign, which is geared to younger students, is vital; 70 percent of the students in technician programs at COD are 21 to 35 years old. Our technology department progressively pursues working relationships with industry, workforce development programs, high schools, middle schools, and grammar schools to develop technician career awareness.

We can and should identify this as a problem that starts in the K-12 system; then we can begin to troubleshoot this situation like real technicians.

Career and technical education was created because industry asked education to “fix” workforce issues. Retraining a displaced workforce will only fill a small part of the gap that needs to be filled to satisfy the future technician shortage in the United States. We need to address this issue with a nationwide campaign—if it can work for nursing, it can work for manufacturing and maintenance technician shortages.

Read the October 2016 issue of electroindustry.

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