SAN DIEGO — Long gone are the days of home economics and metal shop classes that Kearny High School teacher of 30 years Dionicio “John” Riego de Diego sat through.
“Definitely the technology has changed because back then, it was manual lays and manual mills. We had welding we had foundry, and now all these machines are somehow tied to a computer,” Riego said.
There is a lot of heavy-duty machinery, where in-class students can make prototype custom parts that are typically used in biomedical, automotive and aerospace industries.
"This machine is a proto-track bed mill. It’s a three-access machining center, and I move it on the X, Y and Z axis simultaneously,” Riego said.
Despite the high technological advances on $40,000 equipment, there is still a negative perception of machine workers.
"I think in the past they kind of considered us as a dirty trades, where you only get your hands dirty, and now it is a lot more advanced and computer-centered,” Riego said.
Greg Quirin was once a student in Mr. Riego's metal shop class and now oversees the career technical education (CTE) for the San Diego Unified School District.
“We provide students with the necessary tools to go to college, but we also need to provide them with the necessary skills, so that if they do not go to college route, they can still be successful in their career,” Quirin said.
There's a high demand for hands-on skilled workers.
“Every dealership has a shortage of skilled technicians right now. It’s across the board right in building trades and construction, welding, electrical, HVAC, and sheet metal. They have a need for folks to come in and do the skilled jobs, but there is nobody there to fill the position," Quirin said.
That need is also seen in the plumbing industry.
"We've come to the realization that less and less people and less and less kids want to become technicians, plumbing technicians hands-on,” said Haley Howe, GM of Restoration and Flood Division for Bill Howe.
Howe said she has noticed the decline.
“I think over the last few years, we’ve had trouble finding skilled technicians and the pandemic has kind of put a twist on it,” Howe said.
With more people working from home, air conditioning calls shot up. Bill Howe has its own apprenticeship/training program as does ASI “The white glove guys.”
ASI sales trainer Eliezer “Eddie” Sandoval learned the trade in the Navy and said it's no easy task.
“This is work. This is not an easy free ticket meal, no this is work our guys were here you know 12–13 and 14 hours, and at this time, sometimes staff gets home at 9 or 10 o’clock at night,” Sandoval said.
Despite the hands-on positions being often overlooked, insiders say it is a best-kept secret.
"There are people who are paying college tuitions off and not being able to work when people here are making more than what doctors make. Guys here are making $400,000 and $500,000 in a year. We have one guy who made $1 million last year, so it is possible,” Sandoval said.