BUTTE, Mont. -- The labor shortage is hitting each industry differently, and workers in trade and technical fields are in higher demand than ever. And Montana Tech University in Butte is helping high school students explore those opportunities.

Thursday morning, Montana Tech's Highlands College hosted its inaugural Trades & Technical Day. Over 125 students from 17 different schools across the area showed up to learn what opportunities are available for them in vocational fields, such as carpentry, auto maintenance, robotics, web security and much more.

While the COVID pandemic has shaken up a number of things, especially in the workforce, one thing remains unchanged: the demand for technical workers is high.

"Employers need workers," said Bernie Phelps, the director of dual enrollment and career pathways at Montana Tech. "They're asking for CDL drivers, construction, welding, cyber security people... as we all know, the workforce is tight."

Part of the challenge for Highlands College is matching what they teach with what employers need.

"We work with our industry partners when we develop our curriculum to make sure that we're covering what they need," Phelps said. "We visit with them to find out if there are skills that our graduates are lacking so that we can do better at [teaching those skills]."

In addition to demand, Phelps also noted that the interest in trade and technical work has increased, saying that parents and students alike have "started to realize the value" in vocational education.

It's also worth noting that the high demand for technical workers is in spite of Montana's unemployment rate, which is at its lowest in over 14 years: just 3.5% as of August.


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