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After Jennifer Wilkerson taught English in high school for 13 years, she went to work in her husband’s welding fabrication shop managing the business.
Today, those two professions are merged in her work as marketing director for The National Center for Construction Education and Research, or NCCER.
“My 14-year-old daughter often goes to her dad’s welding shop,” Jennifer says. “She’s using complex automation programs to fabricate industrial products with a plasma cutter.”
“This is the kind of profession we’re hoping to introduce to the next generation of craft professionals,” she says.
“People don’t realize the math, science and technology that are involved in the construction and maintenance industries. The certifications require knowledge and skills and can be tough,” Jennifer says, “but these jobs can be quite lucrative.”
There was a time, Jennifer explains, when there was not a consistent, verifiable way for industry to check the credentials of, say, a carpenter in one state versus a carpenter in another state.
“We needed to create standardization,” Jennifer says. “And we needed ways to verify credentials.”
So NCCER was born.
Experts started working on standards and training curriculums. 125 CEOs, association and academic leaders from across America stepped forward to endorse the effort.
Initial curricula covered five craft areas, and now there are over 70 different craft titles to choose from. Everything from wind turbine maintenance to basic plumbing and pipe fitting.
” Now we have a way to offer standardized training with credentials and an online database that provides portable, industry-recognized credentials that can be verified anywhere in the world.” Jennifer says.
“All of this is so important,” she says, “because we’re helping build careers.”
The Harvard of Construction Craft Learning and Credentialing
So far, 13 million credentials have been submitted to the NCCER Registry.
500,000 people are learning through this system in some way each year at more than 4,000 training locations. NCCER curriculum aligns with Perkins IV requirements for industry credentials and programs of study, complies with Department of Labor’s Office of Apprenticeship requirements for time-based training, allows for flexibility and custom task training at the modular level and is competency-based with measurable objectives.
Global companies that now utilize the NCCER registry for training and hiring include Fluor, Jacobs, Bechtel, KBR, ExxonMobil, and Sunoco.
It’s not all classroom learning.
“Hands-on training is included in every single learning module,” says Jennifer Wilkerson. “And all our instructors have to be NCCER Certified Instructors to submit their students for credentials. These instructors are required to have industry experience and or technical training in the craft they are teaching in order to get certified. This solidifies the training these students are receiving.”
“We wanted to make sure these instructors were teaching students the actual skills they will need when they go on a project site,” she says.
A New Regard for the Craft Professions
“We’re trying to change perceptions about these craft industries,” Jennifer says.
“There was a time,” she says, “when so-called ‘vocational training’ in local schools was the place you sent kids who couldn’t handle the other academic environments.”
“Vocational education got a bad name,” she says.
This kind of learning is no longer called ‘vocational training.’ It’s now ‘career and technical training.’
“We need students who excel in science, technology, engineering, and math,” Jennifer says. “Operating a crane involves decisions about load balance, welding uses high concepts in geometry.”
“These are really bright kids who excel academically,” she says.
The Next Generation
“In real ways, we need to get career and technical training back into the schools, “Jennifer says.
“The average age of craftsman in a wide variety of industries is between 48 and 52,” she says, “and we expect around 20-percent attrition through retirement over the next decade.”
All told, some expect a deficit of 2 million craft professional employees by 2019.
Help for Job and Family
“So many kids are going through primary and secondary education,” says Brian Hoehl, “and they’re just not able to land a job.”
“We have a solution with NCCER to help solve this challenge,” he says.
“Our training can change lives,” Jennifer says. “At a recent event, one young man talked of how a chance encounter with a welding mentor and teacher got him through school and into a $90,000-a-year job.”
“These are real people, getting real jobs, and having real success,” she says.