A Few Thoughts on Labor Day, Back to School Timing and Equipping Essential Workers!

By John Willis, MIAT College of Technology Houston Campus President

Labor Day is more than just a legal holiday, more than the signal of summer’s end, and more than the beginning of a new school year. This national holiday honoring the American worker has been observed on the first Monday of September in the United States since President Grover Cleveland signed Labor Day into law on June 28, 1894. Along with most  schools  and businesses of all types in  the United States, MIAT will be closed in observance of Labor Day this year on Monday Sept 7th.    As an institution that is proud of our ongoing contribution to the American Skilled Trades work force, we know that Labor Day is much more than a “day off on a Monday in September.” As we prepare to enter another Labor Day weekend, it is important to reflect on the meaning of Labor Day, its origins, its association with back to school timing, and the role of career schools like MIAT in training and educating essential workers.

A Glimpse into the Past

The U.S. Department of Labor Web site is a reliable source for information on the origins of Labor Day.  Here is an except that I found interesting and wanted to share:

More than a century after the first Labor Day observance, there is still some doubt as to who first proposed the holiday for workers.

Some records show that Peter J. McGuire, general secretary of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and a co-founder of the American Federation of Labor, was first in suggesting a day to honor those \”who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold.\”

But Peter McGuire\’s place in Labor Day history has not gone unchallenged. Many believe that Matthew Maguire, a machinist, not Peter McGuire, founded the holiday. Recent research seems to support the contention that Matthew Maguire, later the secretary of Local 344 of the International Association of Machinists in Paterson, N.J., proposed the holiday in 1882 while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union in New York. What is clear is that the Central Labor Union adopted a Labor Day proposal and appointed a committee to plan a demonstration and picnic.

The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union. The Central Labor Union held its second Labor Day holiday just a year later, on September 5, 1883. By 1894, 23 more states had adopted the holiday, and on June 28, 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed a law making the first Monday in September of each year a national holiday.

(Source: https://www.dol.gov/general/laborday/history)

Back to the Present

Millions of skilled laborers fulfill essential  job functions in a wide range of industry sectors in our country. Some of those in high demand are aviation mechanics, HVACR technicians, welders, non-destructive testing technicians, and wind energy technicians – among many others.  These essential workers  keep the infrastructure of the American economy moving forward.  Our career college is the perfect place for men and women of all ages who enjoy working with their hands and are looking to develop skills that make them employable for a lifetime. The traditional four-year college or university path is not a fit for everyone for a variety of reasons: tuition costs can be daunting, white-collar “desk-bound” employment opportunities may be highly competitive and sometimes repetitive, and student debt can be a serious stressor for a graduate who is either unemployed or underemployed.

That’s why  a decision to enroll in career and technical programs can be a smart choice for students who want to reduce their time and tuition investment from studying and training to entering the workplace, earning a competitive wage, and securing other employment benefits in as little as seven months and typically not longer than two years (if the student is maintaining consistent full-time program enrollment). A positive “return on investment” in a certification or associate degree program can be realized within the first 12 to 18 months of full-time employment after graduating from MIAT.  And the positive impact on future generations of family members can be profound.

Here is a brief update on our Houston campus as of Sept. 1, 2020:

  • Since 2015, we have grown from a small campus of 48 students. Now, we have approximately 575 students enrolled, with 101 of those having started their studies during the month of August. Even in the reality of this pandemic, our student enrollment continues  to be steady. Our student population includes men, women, military veterans,  recent high school grads, career changers, and full-time employees of Houston area businesses who want to improve their knowledge and skills.
  • We are expecting 102 students to graduate between September and December 2020, with 144 having already graduated this year from our Houston programs. Moving our students forward to completing their program of study , even during the challenging times of a pandemic, is a high priority for me, our faculty, our staff, and our employer partners. Giving them the skills they need to be essential members of the skilled workforce will be key to helping improve our nation’s economy.
  • We continue to adhere to a Best Practices approach to COVID-19 health and safety protocols. In addition to conducting lectures and group discussions online, we are continuing to limit on campus lab instruction group size to 10 or fewer; we require face coverings and temperature and wellness checks for every person entering our campus; we have added more plexiglass personal protective barriers at work tables; we have color-coded every group for contact tracing; and we are limiting total numbers of people on campus to 25 % of our building occupancy each shift. Our facilities team sanitizes everything overnight between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m. as well as every hour from 6 a.m. to midnight each day. In the near future, we will be updating classrooms with additional protective shields and a system that will help sanitize the airflow.  When we do return to classroom instruction, we want to do so in the safest way possible.
  • Our non-destructive testing program is gaining popularity after being launched less than a year ago, and we now offer both a day and night shift.
  • I am pleased to report that our welding program has added new equipment to accommodate our growth. We have doubled our capacity and offer both day and evening courses. We are actively recruiting welding program candidates who have excellent eye-hand coordination and a commitment to detail-oriented work.

A Peak into the Future

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics issued an Economic News Release on  Sept. 1 noting “Employment is projected to grow from 162.8 million to 168.8 million over the 2019–2029 decade, an increase of 6.0 million jobs.”

That is good news, and we are looking forward to exciting times for both campuses of MIAT. The employment outlook for our students upon completion of their program continues to be promising.  An upside of this pandemic is that essential workers are getting the attention that they so much deserve.  In addition, many industrial sectors are continuing to grow – which means demand for workers should continue. Fortunately, MIAT offers several options for those who want to be “workplace ready” in under 12 months.

In an uncertain economy, being deemed an essential worker can be extremely helpful.  Both the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Texas Governor Greg Abbot refer to “transportation and critical infrastructure” sectors among those that employ  essential workers. All MIAT’s skilled trades programs  can be categorized as relevant to transportation and critical infrastructure.  Check out employment projections from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov) that are pertinent to several of the programs that MIAT offers in Houston and Canton:

  • Employment of welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers is projected to grow 3 percent from 2018 to 2028. It is anticipated that the nation’s aging infrastructure will require the expertise of welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers to help rebuild bridges, highways, and buildings.
  • Employment of wind turbine service technicians is projected to grow 61 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. Because wind electricity generation is expected to grow rapidly over the coming decade, additional technicians will be needed to install and maintain new turbines. The job outlook for this program continues to be promising.
  • Overall employment of aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and technicians is projected to grow 5 percent from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average for all occupations per the Bureau of Labor statistics. Aviation mechanic graduates continue to be recruited into a variety of other industries that value their mechanical and technical skills.

Stay Tuned!

Please continue to follow MIAT for updates via our Web site and social media platforms.  Based on employer feedback and employment trends, we are gearing up for a major Wind Energy promotional campaign that will launch later this month to attract qualified applicants. Our Wind Energy Technician program can be completed in as little as seven months. Our employers are eager to find new technicians to join their companies.

Please check out www.miat.edu for more information about our school and our program offerings. Our faculty and staff join me in looking forward to hosting you for virtual or in-person campus tours.  As always, I welcome your comments and questions! Please email me at JWillis@MIAT.edu.

Thank you for your support! Have a safe and enjoyable Labor Day holiday weekend!