AUSTIN, TEXAS – It's gotten so hard to find skilled welders, the factory managers at Dynamic Manufacturing Solutions hung a bell on the wall so they could celebrate their new hires.
Jeffrey Cottrell, the Austin-based firm's vice president of operations, said a guy recently stopped by to drop off his résumé, and Cottrell, fetched by the office manager to meet him, asked how soon he could take the factory's welding test. He returned that afternoon.
"He sat down and did his test, and Dennis, our top welder back there, goes: 'Hire this guy immediately because he just gets it.'"
"That bell on the wall they ring?" quipped Terry Terrazas, one of DMS' manufacturing managers. "It actually broke the bell."
If 20 qualified applicants walked in tomorrow, CEO Robb Misso said, they could put them all to work and probably take on more of the business they've had to turn down in recent months.
Misso and his colleagues created what they dubbed DMS University — an opportunity for welders and everyone else around the company to learn a variety of skills, from leadership to welding to English as a second language. Most employees participate in one or more parts of the program.
Rare are the companies that provide such comprehensive work-and-learn programs, often for fear of losing that investment when a competitor poaches your newly trained worker.
"I'd rather train them and have them create a sense of loyalty to the organization and really believe this company gives people opportunities to truly climb the ladder," Misso said.
Yet, in today's job market, even entry- or junior-level job postings often require several years of experience, or at least ask applicants to display a certain level of technical skill. More companies expect incoming workers to develop those talents before applying.
Those demands have put a heightened premium on internships and apprenticeships, and officials at all levels of government are starting to put a greater emphasis behind them. President Donald Trump in June issued an order to help expand apprenticeship programs nationwide
Workforce and higher-education officials stress the importance of earn-and-learn opportunities for low-income students and workers who can't afford to take off time without income.
"The issue of unpaid internships, which has been the model that's been dominant for a long time, is really unfair to an awful lot of poor people because poor students can't work for free," said Raymund Parades, Texas' commissioner of higher education.
Austin saw higher demand for internships in technical occupations, such as marketing, social media, business development and software engineering. But across the board, employer demand for interns hasn't increased at all in recent years, said Daniel Culbertson, an economist at the Indeed Hiring Lab.
In fact, Culbertson said, postings have dipped even as searches for internships increased.
"Judging from Indeed data, I would say that bottleneck is coming from employers," he said.
Culbertson said Indeed's analysis probably didn't capture the scope of blue-collar internship opportunities, which more likely are identified as apprenticeships. But the idea of the supply-demand imbalance reversing from white- to blue-collar job internships is probably "on the right track," he said.