NEWLAND — Avery County is bustling with opportunity within its skills industries for those individuals who are willing to work diligently and learn accordingly to fill the many positions throughout the county and region that are available for skilled workers.
Nick Daniels has worked in construction for 30 years and teaches woodworking to students at Avery High School. Freshmen who take Daniels’ class begin with an introductory course to trade and industrial education before eventually moving on to Daniels’ final course in which students work with Habitat for Humanity.
These students have completed projects across the county. such as Feeding Avery Families’ five community pantries and K9 kennels for local police officers’ patrol vehicles, as well as smaller furniture and repair projects throughout the high school.
Despite there being a number of young adults within the county who are physically capable of performing the work and mentally capable of learning the skills needed, there still exists a labor shortage not only locally but across the country as well.
“Here in the county it is wide open. The problem is there are not enough people interested, and number two, there is not enough people interested in physical work. There are more jobs than there are people to fill them just within this county and that is true nationwide. There is a serious labor shortage within the trade areas,” Daniels said.
According to Daniels, the gap in the availability of skilled workers is only widening as an increasing number of these workers retire and there is not enough young people to replace them. The phenomena is a confounding one considering the fact that workers can earn a decent living after just a couple of years of training, which with these professions they can acquire while on the job.
According to indeed.com, the highest-paying and in-demand skill positions with their corresponding national average salaries are listed as follows: licensed practical nurse ($25 per hour), HVAC technicians ($23 per hour), home inspector ($52,000 per year), plumber ($24 per hour), electrician ($24 per hour), landscape designer ($54,000 per year), boilermaker ($27 per hour), respiratory therapist ($35 per hour), construction manager ($84,000 per year), dental hygienist ($38 per hour), ultrasonographer ($38 per year) and radiation therapist ($115,000 per year).
While the aforementioned numbers are national averages, Daniels said that the number listed for a position such as a construction manager is not far off.
“A student that is willing to work and willing to learn within a couple of years would be making more money than I’m making teaching now. That’s how scarce that type of student is, so when people get them they’re like, ‘Oh, boy. Finally,’” Daniels said. “I have friends in the trades right now that would pay $16 to $20 an hour for a young person that is willing to show up every day, show up on time and work the full time because [employers find that work ethic is lacking],” Daniels said.
In order to supply the community with skilled workers, Mayland Community College and the NCWorks office both offer programs to provide residents with the training and skills to take advantage of the opportunity locally.
Mayland Community College offers training through its workforce development programming, which trains students in skills ranging from health care, construction, electrical, heating and air to welding. Many classes can be completed in 200 hours, or three to five months. Curriculum programs are offered as well.
Melissa Phillips is the Dean of Avery County Programs for Mayland Community College. Similar to how employers have trouble finding skilled workers, Phillips said that sometimes the community college has trouble finding students who are interested in skills-related courses.
“We have trouble individuals to take the classes that prepare them [for trade jobs] sometimes, but we do offer scholarships for our workforce training program. There are a variety of scholarships that we offer, one that the students pay up front, but if they successfully complete [the course] we will reimburse tuition costs. There is another one that pays up front,” Phillips said.
Tuition is lower for community college, and students can save money by pursuing an associate’s degree first before taking on the challenge of completing a bachelor’s degree if they so desire. However, for those pursuing trade positions, the cost for training can be even lower. According to Phillips, the cost for some welding, certified nursing or construction classes at the community college is $180 plus the cost of the textbook and the certificate that the various certifying organizations require.
Since the average amount of student loan debt per borrower is $35,359, according to the Federal Reserve, trade jobs are becoming an increasingly viable option for young people who want to start making money out of high school or save up funds to attend college in the future.
While a college education is important and a dynamic and robust economy needs doctors, lawyers, engineers and scientists in order to provide benefits and services to society, the amount of college debt borrowed over the last decade has doubled. According to studies conducted by the Pew Research Center, about one-third of adults under the age of 30 have student loan debt, and graduates with student loans are more likely to report struggling financially.
The amount of debt varies depending on the degree attained or not attained, as students who take out debt but do not graduate still owe the lender. NCWorks Business Services Representative John Greene says that the high school’s dual-enrollment program is one of the county’s best educational programs to get a jump-start on college education.
“The best thing they can do is take dual-enrollment classes while they are in high school,” Greene said. “Those are free, and if they’re really diligent about it, they can come out with a two-year degree. That’s the best cost-saving they could do. That will save them more money than anything. Somebody has to really want it, but they could still knock off a semester or a year, easily.”
NCWorks also helps dislocated workers or workers who have been out of the workforce for a long time return to employment by offsetting some of the costs that employers incur when training workers. Some employment positions that NCWorks helps provide labor to include construction, manufacturing, social services, HVAC and others.
Greene also said that the local resorts and hospitality industries are now cranking up their seasonal hiring since the COVID-19 pandemic prevented them from doing so during the previous months.