Randall Bloomquist: Vocational College Graduates Key to Addressing Labor Shortage in Supply Chain

When President Joe Biden bragged about his 18-wheeler days recently, he may have stretched the truth a bit. But his message — that the nation is suffering from a severe shortage of truckers — is unmistakable. This is part of the larger labor shortage plaguing the entire supply chain in the country.

Employers are currently struggling to fill 11 million job vacancies, enough to hire every person in New York and Chicago. One of the consequences of the labor shortage: soaring wages that helped fuel record inflation. Private sector payroll costs rose 5% in 2021, from 2.9% in 2020, and the largest annual increase in 20 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Trucking moves about 70% of all freight in this country, and truckers face real challenges,” Biden said, touting the success of his administration’s “Trucking Action Plan,” which was unveiled at the end of last year.

All of this makes the Biden administration’s targeting of proprietary trade schools — also called “for-profit” colleges — so puzzling. Career colleges are creating skilled workers in fields like transportation, nursing and construction, at a time when these jobs are increasingly hard to fill. And yet the just-completed Department of Education rule-making process tightened regulations on how much revenue for-profit schools can generate from federal programs and attempted to impose a rule. of “paid employment” to private educational institutions.

The latter regulation would have required these career colleges to prove that their graduates are employed and able to repay student loans. The paid employment rule would not have applied to public and private colleges and universities, despite the fact that these private schools have a higher completion rate than the average community college.

All of this is confusing for industries that depend on private school graduates to staff their operations.

“We need these local private schools to help fuel grassroots interest in aviation careers,” says Ryan Waguespack, senior vice president of the National Air Transport Association, which represents the airline industry. general aviation.

According to Waguespack, the general aviation sector was understaffed before the pandemic. Then, COVID dramatically increased the demand for private air travel – both personal and business. The New York Times recently reported that business jet takeoffs and landings increased 40% in 2021 from the previous year. And demand continues to rise, Waguespack said, as does the stress of finding qualified employees.

“We had a shortage of technicians and support staff before the pandemic,” he says. “Now that we’ve returned, how are we going to keep up with this cadence?”

He is not alone. The American Trucking Association says the industry currently has 80,000 job vacancies for drivers, a number that will skyrocket in the coming years due to increased demand – thank you, Amazon! — and an aging workforce among truckers.

Before the pandemic, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that America would need to fill 176,000 nursing jobs a year over the next decade, thanks to the medical needs of an aging population and retirements in the profession. This number has almost certainly increased due to the exodus of healthcare workers caused by COVID-related workplace stress.

Fred Freedman, CEO of Pima Medical Institute, an exclusive healthcare school, says his industry is playing a crucial role as the healthcare industry struggles to meet its staffing challenges.

“At the technician level, jobs that require a bachelor’s or associate’s degree (for-profit schools) provide a huge percentage of hospital employees,” he says. “We are talking about nurses, radiology technicians, ultrasound technicians, respiratory therapists, surgical technologists. I can’t tell you what percentage of those positions we fill, but it’s significant enough that hospitals have a hard time filling those positions without us.

Proponents of trade schools and proprietary colleges say their critics have a variety of motivations, most of them understandable. Some lawmakers are simply philosophically opposed to for-profit involvement in higher education, according to Jason Altmire, president of Career Education Colleges and Universities, a trade association representing for-profit educational institutions. Unions and community colleges, he adds, often view private schools as competitors for their training programs.

The state of Georgia, for example, recently invested heavily in expanding truck driver training at its four technical community colleges. These schools compete with private driving schools for the same students.

Freedman thinks many critics of for-profit schools, including those in the health sector, are simply underinformed.

“Most people in hospital administration and management have gone to traditional four-year colleges and universities,” he says. “So there is a lack of familiarity with what we offer and the students who choose our schools.”

There is also a whiff of classism around the way private schools are perceived, especially those that teach practical technical or mechanical skills.

“We kind of demonized manual labor in this country,” says NATA’s Waguespack. “There’s an image out there of airplane mechanics like guys covered in grease with an adjustable wrench. Aircraft today are sophisticated computers capable of flight. Aviation technicians can make $100 an hour at a major airline. So we have to get rid of some old notions.

Randall Bloomquist is a seasoned journalist who writes about business and industry for InsideSources. His column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Lima News editorial board or AIM Media, owner of The Lima News.

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