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Skilled workers becoming endangered species

PHOENIX — Business was good for Mike Summers’ company, Top Quality Masonry, in Phoenix, a few years ago.

“There were quite a few skilled applicants at the time back when we were in the boom six, seven years ago,” Summers said.

Times have changed. The nonprofit Society of Manufacturing Engineers said blue-collar jobs such as masonry or plumbing aren’t popular anymore.

The group fears there could be as many as three million skilled-factory vacancies by 2015.

“I’m pretty active within the masonry contractor’s apprenticeship program for the last nine years,” Summers said. “Even the number of kids we have going into that program is way down.”

SME, based in Dearborn, Mich., blamed the shortage on an increase in four-year college applicants looking for white-collar jobs, as well as parents deterring their children from applying for technical jobs.

“Most trade fairs that we go to for the construction education programs, 90 percent of the parents say, ‘Well, we want our kids to go to college,’ ” Summers said.

SME said there a number of technical jobs that pay a decent salary. Welders, for example, are in demand and make an average about $48,000 a year.