Trade School Enrollment Soars

By: Parija Kavilanz, CNNMoney Trade schools nationwide are bursting at the seams as demand for skilled factory workers pushes enrollment to record highs. American manufacturers in certain sectors are enjoying a rebirth fueled by the return of overseas production back to the United States. As factories crank up, they have an urgent need for high-skilled workers such as machinists and tool-and-die makers knowledgeable in computers. Trade school officials say manufacturing programs are experiencing an influx of students — young people starting out, mid-career workers who are retraining after a layoff, and incumbent factory workers. Workers are drawn not only by the opportunity but also the pay: Starting salaries of $50,000 to $60,000 are not out of range for high-skilled talent. But the surge in enrollment is posing unique challenges for schools, many of which are running at or beyond full capacity for the first time in decades. School administrators are clamoring to hire more instructors and secure funding to buy additional equipment and add classes. These infrastructure limitations, and the fact that it can take a year or more to train high-skilled factory workers, mean that the current labor shortage could persist for several years. Unlike 20 years ago, manufacturing today requires workers who are computer literate and skilled in computer-aided design and engineering, said Sandra Krebsbach, executive director of the American Technical Education Association. Demand through the roof: The Dunwoody College of Technology, a private nonprofit school in Minneapolis, offers two-year programs in tool and die, computer-aided and robotics manufacturing. Dunwoody will have 120 students across its manufacturing programs this year. “That’s the highest level of enrollees we’ve had in 15 years,” said E.J. Daigle, the school’s director of robotics and manufacturing. For the first time in the school’s 99-year history, Dunwoody will this fall introduce a six-month certificate program designed to fast-track training. The program will allow the school to churn out an additional 40 graduates trained specifically in computer-aided manufacturing, said Daigle. “Most of these fast-track students are older, in their 30s and 40s, who can’t take two years off to go to school,” he said, adding that these students have the option to return at any time and complete the...