The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Ethan Mill­man

Parked next to the Wy­oTech booth in the Colorado Con­ven­tion Cen­ter is a slick white sports car. Com­plete with the lat­est tech and mod­i­fi­ca­tions, the car is dubbed a com­puter on wheels by its de­vel­op­ers. And it’s 10 years old.

Cre­ated by stu­dents at Wy­oTech, a skills-based col­lege in Laramie, the car will be raf­fled off at the Amer­i­can School Coun­selor As­so­ci­a­tion’s an­nual con­fer­ence, held in Den­ver this week. The four­wheeled Franken­stein show­cases what a few tech­ni­cians can do to an old ve­hi­cle. But be­cause of a skills gap across the coun­try, there is a grow­ing short­age of qual­i­fied work­ers such as these.

“Our in­dus­try is in cri­sis mode,” said Wy­oTech Laramie Cam­pus pres­i­dent Caleb Per­ri­ton. “It’s a lack of tech­ni­cians. They need help, and they need it yes­ter­day. It’s a full-on cri­sis, and we have a skills gap that we just aren’t fill­ing right now.”

While the U.S. De­part­ment of La­bor Statis­tics projects a 7 per­cent in­crease in em­ploy­ment for au­to­mo­tive ser­vice tech­ni­cians and me­chan­ics na­tion­wide from 2014 to 2024, a lack of qual­i­fied tech­ni­cians could pre­vent these jobs from be­ing filled.

Wy­oTech at­tended the coun­selor con­fer­ence to em­pha­size that school coun­selors should rec­om­mend ca­reers in the auto re­pair in­dus­try to their stu­dents.

“We fo­cus on train­ing stu­dents and want to bring aware­ness to these coun­selors,” Per­ri­ton said. “We want to let them know to think trades. It starts with the youth. We need to get the youth ed­u­cated.”

Per­ri­ton also said he wants stu­dents to know that a job in auto me­chan­ics could be a good op­tion for a high-pay­ing ca­reer.

“That’s through the high schools to think about this as a vi­able ca­reer path. And we’re not just talk­ing about just get­ting a job as a tech­ni­cian or me­chanic. We’re talk­ing about mort­gage-pay­ing, fam­ily-sus­tain­ing ca­reers. There are a mil­lion dif­fer­ent op­por­tu­ni­ties once you get into this in­dus­try,” Per­ri­ton said.

Au­to­mo­tive ser­vice tech­ni­cians and me­chan­ics earned a me­dian pay of $38,470 in 2016, ac­cord­ing to the La­bor De­part­ment.

The lack of skilled auto tech­ni­cians is a mi­cro­cosm of a lack of qual­i­fied vo­ca­tional work­ers as a whole, said Ellen Golombek, di­rec­tor of the Colorado De­part­ment of La­bor and Em­ploy­ment. The gap is an on­go­ing is­sue, and Golombek said there are thou­sands of mid­skill level jobs go­ing un­filled.

The skills gap is an is­sue in states across the U.S., and Colorado is no ex­cep­tion. The Na­tional Skills Coali­tion clas­si­fies auto re­pair as a mid-skill jobs. And while mid-skill jobs in Colorado are in de­mand, there aren’t enough qual­i­fied work­ers. Ac­cord­ing to a re­port from the group — which ad­vo­cates for investment in the skills of Amer­ica’s work­ers and in­cludes mem­bers from busi­ness, la­bor and com­mu­nity col­leges — nearly half the job open­ings in Colorado call for mid-skill level work­ers, but only about 36 per­cent of the state’s work­ers meet this cre­den­tial.

Jobs for auto, bus and truck me­chan­ics are ex­pected to in­crease in the com­ing years, with nearly 5,000 ex­pected job open­ings be­tween the two fields in 2019. But find­ing enough qual­i­fied work­ers to fill these jobs isn’t easy. Ac­cord­ing to the coali­tion’s re­port, while the num­ber of low skill work­ers is ex­pected to grow by nearly 4 per­cent by 2025, mid-skill work­ers will drop by about 3 per­cent in the same time frame.

“There’s def­i­nitely a gap in the sup­ply of jobs in Colorado,” Golombek said. “And that comes from a mis­match be­tween what peo­ple are learn­ing in schools and what they need on the job.”

Golombek said to get more peo­ple work­ing in mid-skill jobs, ca­reers such as auto re­pair need to be des­tig­ma­tized.

“I think we need to have a PR and marketing cam­paign change,” she said. “We need to show these are good ca­reers, good jobs. We haven’t done a good job on that as of late.”

Although Golombek said there needs to be more changes, Colorado has been more proac­tive in re­cent years to add more ca­reer tech-ed­u­ca­tion classes to help stu­dents find a po­ten­tial ca­reer.

“I think we’re do­ing a good job com­pared to the past,” she said. “We’re not telling peo­ple they shouldn’t go to col­lege. But not ev­ery stu­dent is ready to go to col­lege right out of high school. Putting them in these pro­grams helps ground them and ready them for what’s next.”

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