Hot Topic: Nine programs at the TBA-ISD Career Tech Center have waitlists for fall 2017

It’s not quite 50 shades, but Marathon Automotive’s general manager Dave Surowitz sees a bit too much gray in his field.

“Our industry, like all of the skilled trades, is experiencing a graying of the workforce,” said Surowitz, a 20-year veteran at the South Airport Road shop. “Much of the discussion I have with other managers and shop owners involves a concerned eye toward the future.”

Surowitz’ concern is valid. Vocational jobs requiring fewer than four years of higher education will be growing in coming years, according to a recent report by the state of Michigan.

“Michigan’s Hot 50” looks at the job outlook for high-demand, high-wage careers from now through 2018.

Thousands of jobs that don’t require a four-year degree are coming online, with hourly wages ranging from $19.02 for tractor-trailer truck drivers to $36.05 for electrical power-line installers.

Nationally, occupations requiring a high school diploma and some technical training are expected to grow by 11.3 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Areas of growth include healthcare, social assistance, and construction, expected to add almost one million jobs as construction regains jobs lost during the 2007-2009 recession, the report said.

Students and their parents are beginning to pay attention. Enrollment at the TBA-ISD’s Career Tech Center has gone up steadily over recent years, according to principal Patrick Lamb.

“We’re over 1,150 students now,” he said. “And it’s gone up each year. The numbers are rock solid this year.”

The Tech Center offers 23 different educational and training programs from accounting to welding. Nine programs have waitlists, with 79 potential students anticipating enrollment in programs such as public safety, culinary and allied health.

Welding, a profession in which average state salaries range from $24,420 to $55,840, is especially hot.

“Welding is at the top of the list,” said Lamb. “We have 26 students in the morning session and 26 in the afternoon session, with another 15 on the waitlist. There’s a real demand for welding.”

Right behind welding in popularity is public safety, which includes career training for firefighters and law enforcement. There are 50 students currently enrolled, with another 15 on the waitlist.

Brand-new to CTC is the insurance program, which was sparked by a local insurance agency’s need for workers in the industry.

The program covers insurance sales, underwriting, investigation, IT, and marketing. Lamb said the challenge will be getting the word out to students about the new program and getting 15 of them to enroll.

“It’s an opportunity for students to learn about the industry and prepare for a great career,” said Lamb.

Marathon Automotive has an ongoing relationship with the auto repair program at Northwestern Michigan College (NMC) and several employees are graduates. They hope to employ more NMC-trained technicians in the future, Surowitz said.

As cars become more and more technical, the days of the shade-tree mechanic have pretty much gone the way of the buggy whip. Now the need for highly-trained technical workers grows steadily.

“As technology further advances in our industry, folks looking to enter and remain in our workforce will rely more on getting training and exposure to advances that vocational ed most aptly provides,” said Surowitz.

Though Marathon doesn’t offer a bona-fide apprenticeship program, new employees typically learn on the job.

“This is certainly true of those who join the workforce with degree in hand, as well as those starting off green,” said Surowitz. “We need to get the message out that skilled trades can provide a rewarding and meaningful career.”