- Associated Press - Saturday, April 19, 2014

TWIN FALLS, Idaho (AP) - Today’s word of the day is “puddle” - the molten portion of the metal being welded.

This Twin Falls High School building is separate from the academic classrooms. Here, TIG and arc welding tools replace books. Backpacks filled with paperwork disappear as students pull on their helmets, ready to work.

There is no Shakespeare, and that’s just fine with Cristian Estrada, a senior and teaching assistant. English class “just isn’t my thing,” he said.

Estrada wanted to be a surgeon. Now he wants to work on cars, preferably for BMW and Porsche.

“I took classes (in medicine) up until last year, and I found out I’m not really good with needles and blood,” he said. “So this really attracted me a lot more than cutting people open.”

The welding skills Estrada and other students hone each day will be increasingly in demand amid the impending retirement by an entire workforce of baby boomers skilled in the industrial arts - machinists, welders, industrial mechanics, carpenters, machine operators and others.

Each day, 10,000 baby boomers turn 65. More than 2 million skilled workers in manufacturing alone will be needed to replace them by 2018, studies show.

Many of those jobs don’t require a bachelor’s degree, but they do demand a skill set that commands good pay, said Jan Roeser, an economist for the Idaho Department of Labor.

What keeps most employers up at night is how to replace certain gray-haired employees in the next few years, state surveys show.

“The succession plan of their employees is something that they don’t have in place and is nagging at them in the back of their mind. That’s what keeps the line going. And when the line is down, you’re not making any money.”

Manufacturers long have worried about the erosion of skills once held in high esteem, reports the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM).

About 90 percent of companies reported a moderate to severe shortage of skilled production employees, says a 2005 NAM skills gap study. Those were for jobs such as front-line workers, machinists, operators, craft workers, distributors and technicians.

“Without a sufficient supply of these types of employees, the manufacturing sector will suffer - which, in turn, will have a detrimental impact to the nation’s overall economic health,” NAM reports.

In an increasingly technical world, many parents push students to attend college. They don’t see manufacturing as a solid opportunity, Roeser said.

But as the U.S. workplace becomes more global, NAM notes, it is flooded with foreign workers with college degrees.

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