Training, education for workers available

Students learn clean room technique used in manufacturing at Fulton-Montgomery Community College in Johnstown. (Photo submitted)

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is the last of a three-part series on the shortage of skill workers in the trades and manufacturing. This part focuses on training opportunities.

Students get hands-on experience with robotics used in manufacturing in a lab at Fulton-Montgomery Community College in Johnstown. (Photo submitted)

The shortage of skilled workers in the trades, including construction, auto work and manufacturing, has not caught area businesses and schools napping.

They have been collaborating with new courses, internships and apprenticeships to entice people to train, or retrain, for careers that can pay well and require less time and money for education.

One initiative is Pathways in Technology Early College High School that is run by the Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery Board of Cooperative Educational Services in Johnstown in partnership with Fulton-Montgomery Community College.

Students must begin the program in the ninth grade, taking the regular high school curriculum while learning marketable technical skills and take courses at FMCC. They can finish in four years with both an associates degree and high school diploma. Students who need more time to finish their associates degree can go on for two more years at FMCC at no additional cost. Along the way business people offer mentoring and internships.

“We are aiming for middle-level skills jobs,” said PTECH Principal Michael Dardaris.

“The students aren’t dropping 10 grand” for a marketable education he said.

Programs that students can take are electrical technology, business administration, business accounting, computer information systems, computer networking, computer technology, medical administration studies and radiologic technology.

The students can take up to six years to complete the program, “depending on the student’s pace and goal,” Dardaris said. Students work on real-world projects and may have internships with area businesses, he said.

“We integrate technology in everything,” he said.

This year in June, 12 students of the first PTECH class graduated from their home high schools while earning associate degrees from FMCC, but none of these chose a skilled trade, Dardaris said.

Similarly, Ag-PTECH is training students for the agriculture industry. It is headquartered in St. Johnsville and interfaces with the State University at Cobleskill, and includes the option of training for the maintenance and repair of farm equipment.

BOCES also has a Career and Technical Education program with 16 majors, including auto body repair, auto technology, computer information technology and networking, engineering technology and construction technology. The students can get internships that are “a good way for employers to audition students,” said CTE Principal Jay DeTraglia.

He said construction technology students, for example, have no trouble getting jobs.

About three years ago, FMCC and area businesses collaborated in establishing a one-year certification program in heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration. Some businesses donated equipment for training the students.

“We kind of got our feet wet,” said the college’s president, Dustin Swanger.

FMCC already has programs for construction as well as automation and robotics and other skills applicable to manufacturing but plans to expand and enhance its skilled workforce training.

Martha Ponge, director of apprenticeships with the Manufacturers Association Central New York, said her organization works with other member associations of the Manufacturing Alliance of New York State in creating manufacturing apprenticeships that can train up workers from entry-level to higher-paying positions within companies.

She also said state government has created a curriculum of skills needed for certified production technicians.

Collaboration between colleges, businesses, BOCES and the Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce, which has been instrumental in finding internships for students, is providing low-cost or even free training for people to gain marketable skills and advance financially.

Wages in the trades are competitive with all occupations in the state with the median income for trades is $45,830 while for all occupations is $42,340, according to the “Skilled Trades in New York,” a June 2016 report by the state Division of Research and Statistics. The median wage is the middle wage between the highest and lowest wage in the field.

For example, the median wage in building trades for reinforcing iron and rebar workers is $97,110; electricians, $68,770; carpenters, $52,870; plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters, $66,180; and brick and block masons, $63,250, the report states. In manufacturing, for example, the median for control and valve installers and repairers, except mechanical door, is $81,470; industrial machinery mechanics, $52,000; and machinery maintenance workers, $47,780. Many people don’t start at those wages but over time may reach or exceed them.

Swanger said that in his 30 years in higher education “the challenge is getting students into the programs” to train for these occupations.

By Kerry Minor

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