Elkhart schools offer classes in RV construction to help fill employee shortage

Elkhart, Indiana, the “RV capital of the world,” boasts a 2% unemployment rate and billboards along major highways offer jobs with great starting pay with the area’s many RV manufacturers. Because of the great demand for RVs and a shortage of workers to build them, reports the Indy Star, the industry is teaming up with a local high school to teach students the skills needed for these good jobs.   

Until this year, Noah Alexander hadn’t thought much about a job in the RV industry. But Alexander liked doing things with his hands and gravitated toward career and technical education classes. So when he heard about NorthWood High School’s new sequence of courses designed to prepare students for a job in RV construction, he enrolled.

Alexander is one of 10 students participating in NorthWood’s new RV construction pathway, made possible by a rewrite of the state’s graduation requirements and created in coordination with one of the country’s largest manufacturers of recreational vehicles and designed to produce high school graduates with the skills needed to work on the assembly line of any one of the area’s RV factories.

With dozens of factories, the county makes more than half of all RVs in the country and has more than 72,000 manufacturing jobs. Some question whether the good times for the industry are here to stay, or what would happen if the county experiences a repeat of the 2008 economic crisis that hit Elkhart harder than anywhere and saw thousands of RV workers laid off.

But, right now, the industry can’t find enough skilled workers, so Elkhart County’s Wa-Nee Schools system will try to fill the need. Thor believes in this model so much – or perhaps needs workers so badly – that they’re starting to reach out to students as early as the fifth grade. The company launched a program called LEAP last year, with programming for fifth-graders, eighth-graders and high school students. They’ll take it to as least 18 schools in the Elkhart area this year and hope to reach 5,000 students.

“They’ll be able to walk into one of our HR departments and say, ‘Look, I’ve mastered measuring, I’ve mastered air tools, I’ve mastered wiring, plumbing, HVAC,’ those types of things,” said Rick Schutt, director of community engagement for Thor Industries. “They’ll have those skills and be ready to go from day one.”

 

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7 Thoughts to “Elkhart schools offer classes in RV construction to help fill employee shortage”

  1. Jeff

    While this program might be a good idea, it needs serious evaluation!

    First off, the RV Industry is in a HUGE BUBBLE right now. RVs being manufactured in record numbers. Most of them PURE JUNK! Being built by people who DON’T Know which end of screwdriver to use! Very Bad Quality Control. OVERSTOCK of RVs on Dealers lots.

    So, when the BUBBLE BURSTS and the RV Industry Crashes again, what are all these newly trained KIDS going to do then, when they can’t get a job in the Industry! When they have no other education and the Unemployment Rate Sky Rockets!

  2. Tommy Molnar

    I think it’s great that schools may be teaching useful skills, whether they use them in RV related jobs or not. Time to quit wasting time and money on diversity training, political correctness, and Common Core. I remember having wood shop, electric shop, auto shop, foundry, print shop, machine shop, and a host of other shop courses in high school. I came out of high school thinking I could take on the world – maybe a bit overconfident of course, but I had learned some skills I could take to the real world.

    And as someone else mentioned, when the bust comes there should be plenty of repair techs to fix stuff when it breaks. And they can move out of the Elkhart area and go anywhere they want – kinda like nurses and auto mechanics.

    1. I also like the idea of schools teaching technical skills in addition to more academic subjects. My twin boys both went to “Tech High” for Computer Forensics and Culinary/Pastry. They both went on to get lots of scholarships, earned BA’s in their respective fields, and were hired to great jobs in their career paths BEFORE they even graduated college. And to top it off, their employers will now pay for them to pursue Master Degrees and Continuing Education classes, in addition to giving them time off with pay to go to school. Of course, these are my kids, so each of them have been working on computers since they were 4 years old, learning Autocad, Corel Draw and Powerpoint on my knee (literally), and know how to tear down a car engine, drive on ice and snow, run every kind of power tool, and build anything they want to. But there’s too many of my students at a major conservatory where I teach who graduate with $150K in student loans and no marketable job skills. If you can figure out how to do both tech and academic paths at the same time, then you’ll have your pick of any job and career path you can imagine.

      1. Bob

        It’s not surprising that Mike’s popularity among RVTravel readers is so high.

  3. KellyR

    They don’t need to hire workers until they hire qualified design engineers to make sure Jayco (in previous recall article) doesn’t install hydraulic lines by the exhaust system. Correct engineering could correct a lot of the poor construction problems. It is not all worker fault.

  4. Sue

    What they need to be training these kids for is to be RV repair technicians, not assembly line workers. When the inevitable economic “bust” comes, at least they can still find jobs repairing all the shoddily-made RVs out there — especially the ones whose owners are stuck with them because they got suckered into 20-year loans to buy them. Cynical? Realistic, I think.

  5. Roy

    If Thor (and the rest of the industry in Elkhart) is behind training students for RV construction … Heaven help the industry. How do you ‘teach’ poor practices and terrible construction? How do you ‘teach’ lousy QC? This is the wolf teaching the sheep how to leave the gate open …

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