His trusty toolbox and iPad situated nearby, Josh Guadalupe pulls apart panels from a seaplane, inspecting for saltwater corrosion. He checks the iPad from time to time, meticulously looking at the aviation manuals to ensure each task is done properly as he performs maintenance repairs. Airplanes flying overhead roar in the background at the hangar at Tropic Ocean Airways, a private seaplane charter company based at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
Guadalupe is an aircraft mechanic, a career that’s well paying and in high demand, especially in Fort Lauderdale where the aviation industry is a multibillion-dollar sector. It employs more than 46,000 people, and the need to fill jobs is growing. The 34-year-old entered the field a little over a year ago after a career change. He has since been promoted to a supervisor position, earning a substantial amount more than when he started, he says.
To get the needed training, he completed an 18-month airframe and power plant mechanic certificate at Broward College’s Emil Buehler Aviation Institute. Tropic hired him two months ahead of his May 2018 graduation.
“We’re all getting jobs before we’re done with school,” he says. “I get to work on seaplanes every day. It’s really cool. I’m running a team, and I can keep moving up.”
There’s a huge demand for this line of work, he explains, because the majority of the aircraft mechanics are retirement-nearing Baby Boomers. As a whole, this industry is scrambling to recruit new talent. Some aviation companies offer sign-on bonuses.
With Florida’s unemployment rate at 3.4 percent as of January 2019, according to the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, the market is tight beyond measure. Four percent is considered full employment.
Not only is the demand for workers to fill jobs across many industries drastically increasing in this economy, the shortage of skilled laborers among the trades – jobs such as carpentry, welding, plumbing, building construction and manufacturing – is in a crisis.
Area businesses are feeling the extreme pressure, so people and organizations such as Broward County Public Schools, CareerSource Broward, community leaders and politicians are partnering up to address the demand before it’s too late.
Broward County Commissioner Steven Geller regularly meets with business and education leaders, as well as families, to find ways to “reinforce the importance of shop class.”
“I believe one of the greatest problems of the United States is the hollowing out of the middle class,” Geller says. “I’ve been pushing for what I call ‘mid-skill’ jobs creation. Think about it; without welders, masonry, electricians, and maritime technicians, entire industries would collapse.”
James Payne of Broward County Public Schools says there’s a big push to inform parents and students in middle and high school about the district’s vast vocational education opportunities. Last summer, Broward Schools piloted a six-week, paid internship program in the construction industry. Thirteen junior-level students got hands-on experience working at the school’s facilities. They learned from electricians, plumbers and carpenters, with the goal that they would continue on to technical career colleges. There’s also a partnership with three technical area colleges that offer dual-enrollment programs for high school students – and tuition fees are waived.
“It’s a huge head start,” says Payne, who works as curriculum supervisor for career, technical, adult and community education. “Most people don’t realize that some of these industries exist, and how big they are.”
Businesses need to get more involved with educational institutions, too, to help develop the future’s workforce, the school supervisor says. In one example, Baker Concrete Construction, a national company with offices in Fort Lauderdale, has partnered with Plantation High School through the ACE Mentor Program of Broward County. ACE mentors teach students about careers in the architecture, engineering and construction industry.
Another challenge needing to be addressed, Payne says, is changing parents’ mindsets that career tech educational programs are not as prestigious as traditional colleges.
“If 100 percent of the students got four-year college degrees, there are not enough four-year degree-type of jobs to support an entire economy,” he says.
Mason Jackson, president and CEO of CareerSource Broward, a career services agency, agrees.
“The skill trades began to suffer because of this stigma and it wasn’t always the case,” Jackson says. “After World War II, when the men came back home we had this huge Baby Boomer generation happen; they got married, had two kids and lived in the suburbs. But during the 1960s and ’70s, the mantra changed that if you wanted to make a good living you had to go to four-year college. And tons of parents wanted their kids to have a better future, thinking ‘I want to make sure you have a college degree so you don’t have to work as hard as I did.’”
For the following decades, if you weren’t college material and pursued a vocational track, it was seen as a step down, he says. “And here’s what’s important nowadays, that depending on the selected major, nearly one-third of recent college grads are under-employed, working in low-paying retail jobs with massive amounts of student loan debt – and it’s worse for women.”
In fact, skilled trades offer starting salaries above the median annual wage in Broward County.
“Too many young people are picking mascots, not careers … they go to college saying, ‘I want to be a Florida Gator.’ Well, that’s a mascot, not a career.”
To fill the void, CareerSource Broward has a number of initiatives in place, including an apprenticeship program and interest assessment tools. Folks can sign up and get paid while they learn on the job in a number of vocations, such as carpentry, welding and automotive.
And there’s no student debt in many cases. “We have $1.5 trillion in student debt and it’s crippling,” Jackson says. “The great thing about apprenticeship: you earn while you learn from day one. And there’s the possibility of entrepreneurship. The person who owns the auto dealerships, chances are they started out as a mechanic.”
If finding replacements for workers in Boomer-dominated industries is one concern, attracting women to male-dominated trades is another.
Jeanette Alston-Watkins works in business development for Soprema commercial roofing in Pompano Beach, and says that women make up only 1.3 percent of the entire U.S.-based construction workforce. The good news for women interested in joining the construction industry is the gender pay gap is much lower: women earn about 95.7 percent of what men make. Across the U.S., women make an average of 81.1 cents on the dollar for the same exact job in other industries, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Alston-Watkins has been in the construction industry for 24 years. She’s also the president of the National Association of Women in Construction’s Greater Fort Lauderdale chapter.
Aside from the money, the upside for women in construction is sizable. “When women-owned businesses and military put in bids, they get first look,” she says. “I know husbands who put their companies in their wives’ names to get first dibs.”
NAWC’s Fort Lauderdale chapter hosts monthly luncheons with general contractors, architects and area professionals who present to the group, she says. “Construction is a growth industry in South Florida. There are many women who have reached top positions; they opened the doors for us. There’s so much growth. I’ve seen women who were receptionists who are now project mangers who are paid very well.”
Jobs You Can’t Outsource
Automation and offshoring won’t impact the construction industry like it can for many other fields. Truck drivers will be replaced by automation, but electricians and plumbers are among the most stable jobs in the country, Steven Geller, the Broward commissioner, says.
“If you’re an electrician with 10 years of experience, you can make close to $100,000,” he says. “Trades are good, solid, traditional jobs that cannot be outsourced. If your air conditioning needs fixing, or your plumbing, you have to hire someone local.”
Shekeil Williams works as a lead estimator and project manager for The Door Shop, a commercial door, window and hardware distribution and installation company in Hollywood. Williams moved to Florida about three years ago from his native Jamaica and enrolled in Broward College’s two-year associate degree program in building construction technology.
“Buildings are being made every day,” Williams says. “Construction will always grow. It changes, it’s creative and it’s not going to falter.”
He started working for The Door Shop as a junior estimator while still in school, securing employment about six months ahead of graduation. Within eight months, he was promoted. And, of course, he got a raise in pay. He never even knew what estimating was until school exposed him to it. (It involves assessing the costs associated with a project or service.)
“It’s an incredible industry and more people should come into it because there’s a lot of room to grow,” he says. “And your job won’t be sent overseas because your trade will always be with you. You’ll always have work, especially if you’re good at it and know what you’re doing. You’re golden.”
Getting the Skills
Trade programs offered at Broward College
- Industry, manufacturing, construction and transportation
- Automotive-Service Management (Associate of Science)
- Airport Operations
- Air Traffic Controller
- Building Construction Technology
- CNC Machinist
- Engineering Technology
- Industrial Management
- Marine Engineering Technology
- Manufacturing & Service Operations
- Professional Pilot Technology
- Transportation OperationsWarehouse Operations
Where to go for career technical training in Broward County
- Atlantic Technical College: atlantictechnicalcollege.edu
- Sheridan Technical College and Technical High School: sheridantechnicalcollege.edu
- William T. McFatter Technical College and Technical High School: mcfattertechnicalcollege.edu
- Career in a Year: Find out about 49 institutions across the state and how to train for a career in one year / careerinayearfl.com
- Broward Public Schools: browardschools.com/CTC
A variety of career training programs are offered to Broward County residents to acquire skills necessary to gain employment in high-demand occupations.
Occupational Career Training Program
- The individualized training program prepares job seekers for a competitive and high-paying profession such as HVAC, welding technology, plumbing and construction.
- Scholarships of up to $12,000 are available for eligible individuals to help cover the cost of their tuition, books, training supplies and more.
- Participants in the program receive direct access to businesses hiring interns and get experience while obtaining their education.
Work Experience Program (WEX)
- The program allows participants to gain relevant skills in order to transition into a different career.
- Workers in WEX can temporarily help fill employment gaps on their resume.
- Participants can receive financial assistance while they look for their next permanent job.
On-the-Job Training Program (OJT)
- Determination is based on the availability of the participating employer
- OJT provides a unique opportunity for individuals who already possess some job-related skills and knowledge to “earn as they learn.”
- Participating employers are reimbursed up to 75 percent of the employees’ wages while they are being trained.