Created: 04/11/2014 6:20 PM KAALtv.com
By: John Doetkott
(ABC 6 NEWS) -- A new gap in the workforce is causing industrial companies to take an increasingly proactive approach to try to reel in new candidates.
"It's getting to be so competitive for these companies because they see there's not enough people available,” said Bob Bender, an industrial maintenance instructor at Riverland Community College in Albert Lea. “They have to bid for our students."
On Friday, a group of more than 80 high school students gathered at Riverland Community College in Albert Lea for the school's 8th Annual Welding Competition.
But experts said soon, companies will be competing for them.
Officials working in the industry said there's a shortage of skilled technical workers across the country, with companies seeing good jobs left vacant.
"The higher skill level is difficult to come by,” said Rick Amans, a welding engineer for Chart, Inc. “And that's why we're here, to address these kids that have their foot in the door already and to let them know that if you stay at it and you get good, and you get proud, you'll never be out of work."
"These are very good jobs. We've been averaging, on the welding side, students [making] $15 to $20 an hour depending on what place they work at,” Bender said. “That's right out of college. You can't go wrong with those kinds of skill sets."
Companies are having such a hard time finding workers mainly because baby boomers are retiring while many high schools no longer offer the technical programs to help replace them.
"I think that's going to hurt us down the road,” Bender said. “We have to get it back in the high schools, those technical skill sets."
Organizers of Friday's competition said they hope getting kids started early in the technical field will help jumpstart the workforce of the future.
"The baby boomers that are retiring right now, we have to fill those slots, and these companies are really hurting,” Bender said. “So we're hoping to fill some of those slots."
Students at Friday’s competition came from 16 schools in both Iowa and Minnesota.
And organizers said companies are actually starting to buy equipment for high schools and offer internships to high school students to try to increase the workforce.