Ask anyone trying to get something repaired or built and they can tell you that the wait is long—if you can even find someone. Indeed, government sources state that the skilled labor shortage is one of the greatest concerns and challenges facing the U.S. economy today. And the problem was only made worse by the pandemic.
These shortages are clear to the leaders training students in the trades, and they are working to attract more students to combat the void. “We have more jobs than we have students, the demand is so high,” said Dave Becker, academic chair in the School of Trades, Pittsburgh Technical College (PTC).
According to Becker, students have jobs lined up before they even graduate.
Pittsburgh Technical College offers over 30 programs, including certificate and associates’ degrees in many trade fields. Students can obtain a certificate to be an electrician in a five-quarter program that includes a full-time internship for the last quarter. “They are actually working in the field in a full-time job,” said Becker.
PTC also has both Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) and welding certificate and associate programs; fields that have a high placement rate in the current job market.
PTC works closely with employers to design their programs and curriculum so that students are ready to go right from the classroom into the workforce. Some of its current students are actually working part-time in their fields prior to graduation because of the extreme worker shortage and the preparation they’ve gained through the programs at PTC.
In addition to the numerous opportunities for those in the trade industry, they are also considered essential workers.
“During the worst of the pandemic when things were closing down, the trades were essential careers, and they were able to keep working,” Becker said.
PTC students are able to continue their education at PTC or at other institutions if they desire, but with the marketable skills that they obtain in the trades, students make good wages right from the start, said Becker. “Of course, salaries depend to a large degree on the students and their skills, but depending on their skills and the employers’ needs, they can start anywhere from the $18-$20 range all the way up to $30 an hour.”
PTC, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, is hosting Discovery Day on August 27 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Visit www.ptcollege.edu for more information.
Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) has also seen a wealth of opportunities in the trades. ”The demand has been so great that many companies are hiring our students before graduation,” said Jen Cowans, executive director, Business Operations.
Like PTC students, CCAC students can take advantage of these opportunities not only with early job offers, but with paid internships and part-time jobs.
CCAC offers certificate and/or associate degree choices in many programs, and students often opt to go on for further education down the road.
According to Cowans, CCAC has numerous partnerships with companies and professional organizations who not only assist with curriculum development so that the programs are tailored to meet industry needs, but also provide opportunities for paid internships and part-time jobs while students are still in school. Some of the programs have been designed to allow students to work full-time in the field while attending evening classes to complete their educational requirements.
“Some employers are so desperate, they are paying for employees to get training,” Cowans said. Companies may also offer scholarships toward educational programming.
Over the past few years, CCAC has expanded its offerings in certification programs. “We have worked with industry to build certificate programs for short-term training to prepare students to become employable sooner, because industry demand for the skilled trades keeps expanding and increasing,” said Cowan.
Areas such as the automotive industry, welding, HVAC, commercial truck driver’s training and mechatronics have grown exponentially in the past few years. And with the increase in need and demand comes an increase in salaries.
“Wages have continued to increase; we are seeing line workers in electrical distribution with Duquesne Light make $70,000 a year,” said Cowan. “Some mechatronics students have been offered $33 an hour before they even graduate.”
To learn more, visit www.ccac.edu.
High school students can begin training for the trades as early as tenth grade at A. W. Beattie Career Center. According to Executive Director Eric Heasley, the center has seen an increase in interest by local students over the past five years and now has a waiting list for enrollment.
Serving Avonworth, Deer Lakes, Fox Chapel Area, Hampton Township, Northgate, North Allegheny, North Hills, Pine-Richland and Shaler Area school districts, Beattie offers training in a wealth of career fields including carpentry, automotive, HVAC, building construction, and robotics engineering technology, just to name a few.
Students typically take some of their academic classes at their home high schools and then study in their desired career fields at Beattie for the remainder of the day. Their studies include theory and lecture components as well as working in laboratories for hands-on experience.
“For example, our building construction students learn the fundamental basics and foundations in the classroom, learning about safety and building requirements, and then they will build an actual model home,” Heasley said. “They learn the skills first, and then get their hands dirty.”
Depending on the programs, students will receive certificates and be eligible to take any industry certification testing according to their career field. While many students go on to full-time employment right after graduation, some pursue higher education or join the military.
Just like at PTC and CCAC, students can take a cooperative education program where they alternate working in the field with classroom studies or an internship. “We have students in both paid and unpaid programs,” Heasley said.
And some students, such as those pursuing Emergency Medical Technician certification, may be working while studying.
Heasley said that they are constantly receiving calls from employers in all trades seeking entry-level employees. “Our students are receiving more opportunities than ever, which is why they are here,” he said.
Beattie also offers summer camps for students in fifth through ninth grades to introduce them to various career fields and programming. For more information visit