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Focus - The Trades in high schools & beyond

image Jerry Thomas, CAE Executive Director, Independent Electrical Contractors (IEC), Dallas, TX

DALLAS/FT WORTH - In days past, one could find a trades program in almost every junior high/senior high school in America. Remember shop class?

 

 

 

 

 

 

    Then the “everyone should attend college movement” came along and trades courses went to the wayside. Over the years, we found many people were either not prepared for nor had no business attending college.  The entire period of “everyone attends college” helped, I believe, in part to create a void in the blue-collar workforce. 
    Apprenticeship programs during that time trained and graduated fewer experienced workers while most workers depended on more experienced craftsmen for training. As those with less skills, education and experience entered the workforce, the trades suffered and shortages grew.
    As craft worker numbers declined, an age gap was created between today’s young people and the “veterans” of the trades - those in their late 40s and beyond.  I’ve seen figures, for example, of electricians where the average age of a Journey-level electrician is 48 years of age.  The huge gap between high school age graduates and today’s tradespeople will need narrowing if we’re to have adequate numbers of trades people to satisfy workplace demand.
    To begin the replenishment phase of the trades, the Texas Legislature in 2015 decided it was time to bring other opportunities into high school that would satisfy graduation requirements.  This move allowed trades courses, among others, to once again be offered to high school students.  It benefits those not wanting to go to college but pursue work in the trades or other fields.  The options to choose an apprenticeship or vocational program upon graduation from high school should help to narrow the age gap already mentioned.  But it won’t happen overnight.
    Today, our associations and other groups are working closely with high schools to put in place an introduction to the trades in 9th and 10th grades. Students may then choose a trade they want to pursue in the 11th and 12th grades and upon graduation, enter an apprenticeship or other training program while working full-time in that trade. 
    Additionally, with our IEC program, high school students are earning college credit hours and on-the-job experience in the electrical trade.  Upon graduation, they enter our electrical apprenticeship school where they earn additional college credit hours upon graduation.  From there, graduates will be able to finish a few courses at the community college to earn their Associates degree.  The high school to apprenticeship program is a huge win-win for the student, high school and our industry.
    Hopefully, with enough high schools participating, we can meet the ever-growing demands of America’s marketplace and trades. It’s way past time for all of us to “talk shop”.  It’s time for action.
    Looking for educational opportunities after high school, many trades have bolstered apprenticeship with expanded programs of newer technologies in their standard apprenticeship programs. These new technologies attract young people who like the challenges presented in higher mathematics and science disciplines.  Studying to become an electrician for example fills the challenge these students need.
     Electricians are highly skilled and significantly compensated for their unique knowledge and abilities. They require up-to-date training as new technology emerges, creating more opportunities for the electrician to improve upon their skills.  Enrolling in a four-year apprenticeship training program combines the on-the-job training and formal related technical instruction one needs to prepare for this high-demand field.  This means a person gets paid to work while receiving a top-notch education in the electrical field. This type of apprenticeship training provides the student knowledge, technical skills and practical experience necessary to succeed in today’s trades.
    Students have an array of great apprenticeship and educational opportunities in the trades today that offer good pay and training and a fulfilling career.  Carpentry, plumbing, sheet metal, steel worker, pipefitter, glazier, bricklayer, AC/Heat are just a few of the trades along with electrical that offer young people today a challenging, rewarding, well-paying career.  We must encourage these folks to consider the trades as a career if we’re to continue building America. -cmw


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Carol Wiatrek meditor@constructionnews.net