America's economy was forged by machinists. But today, a quarter of the nation's welders, engineers and steelworkers are getting ready to retire. And as budget-strapped school districts cut shop classes, fewer young people are entering the trade.
The result is a shortage of skilled workers to build and run the machines that run our lives.
"There's a huge demand for machinists," says veteran machinist Louis Quindlin." They're needed both in manufacturing, and the industrial maintenance side, which is repairing equipment, either pumps or valves, for refineries, water companies, waste water companies..."
The list goes on and on, which is why machinist trade schools like the one we visited Laney College in Oakland are booming. Here in the large, noisy classroom, Quindlen and other trade experts teach students how to think with their hands and work safely around heavy machinery.
Once they gain the skills, these students know a good paying job is virtually guaranteed.
"It's not hard work, its precision work," says 25-year old Joseph Henderson, who hopes to have his own machine shop someday. "If you can pay attention to detail, then this might be the move for you."
From refineries to manufacturing plants, companies are hiring-- with starting pay as high as $30.00 an hour.
"A good, top level machinist can actually earn more than a manufacturing engineer these days," says Don Castillo, a manufacturing manager at FM Industries in Fremont, California.
Others looking at their second or third career -- are hoping a job as a skilled laborer carries them through to retirement.
"This is definitely something I can see where I can be challenged for a long time and have a career that will last for a long time," says 28-year old Michah Chong.
Students aren't just learning how to repair and maintain machines, they're designing and manufacturing parts and prototypes that will give them the skills to advance America's manufacturing industry -- and keep the nation competitive."
"If we fill the gap," says Castillo, "we keep jobs here we can compete with the rest of the world and maintain a good level of manufacturing here in the U.S."
A study done by the National Association of Manufacturers concluded the largest impediment to future growth is a skilled workforce. That's why training the next generation of machinists is critical to ensuring America remains a nation of builders.
Claudia Cowan currently serves as Fox News Channel's (FNC) San Francisco-based correspondent. She joined the network in 1998.