Country Faces Urgent Need For New Vo-Tech Trade Schools

U.S. Urgently Needs Recruits For Trades

vo-tech trades offer better careers

High Tech Trade Schools Filling Needs Across Country

A quiet trend that’s building across the country is the realization by state governments and private industry that a vocational trades education is an essential option for young people starting out, and that the trades can be just as financially rewarding, if not more so, than a traditional, and increasingly expensive, college degree.

“Readers of a certain age are likely to have fond memories of huddling over wooden workbenches learning a craft such as woodwork or maybe metal work, or any one of the hands-on projects that characterized the once-ubiquitous shop class.”

High schools and trade colleges have struggled for decades to attract students to career-oriented tech classes teaching dozens of much needed hands-on skills ranging from welding to nursing to plumbing.

Today, according to economic modeling company Emsi, skilled trades and the arts show some of the highest earning potential among all job categories, including white collar occupations that have long enjoyed the high ground of compensation.

California Sets New Goals

California is the most recent, though not the only state, to begin a dedicated push to pay for modern, high tech training facilities and to recruit applicants as the schools establish an occupational foothold.

After years of cutting the often more expensive up front cost for vocational instruction, it’s now actively seeking private industry sponsors to help pay for the initial outlay. “The justification is budgetary; these programs (which include auto body technology, aviation maintenance, audio production, real estate and photography) are expensive to operate.”

The plan includes spending $6 million on a campaign to revive the reputation of vocational education, and $200 million to improve the delivery of it.

“Readers of a certain age are likely to have fond memories of huddling over wooden workbenches learning a craft such as woodwork or maybe metal work, or any one of the hands-on projects that characterized the once-ubiquitous shop class.”

For plumbers, the days of showing up at the job with a blowtorch and lead pot are long gone, as appliance phone apps and digital integration with the cloud are common manufacturer offerings. Today the focus is on teaching and training not just the basics, but the increasingly critical — think smart home — high tech digital skills that are essential for service and installation.

Carpenters, electricians, plumbers, and HVAC techs are often the most visible trades mentioned on the internet, along with auto and aircraft mechanics, machinists, and a wide variety of specific manufacturing skills.

Artisan Trades: Charleston Program Unique

In Charleston, SC, centuries old trades are now being taught to a new generation of artisan craftsmen, thanks to the efforts of the Historic Charleston Foundation. To help rebuild the historic district of Charleston after 1989’s Hurricane Hugo, this nonprofit addressed the shortage of stone masons, blacksmiths, and restoration specialists by starting a summer building-crafts training program for high-school students in 1992.

Today, the American College of Building Arts offers students a unique in the country program of restoration arts coupled with traditional four-year degree course work.

“If any institution of higher learning is prepared to batten down its own hatches, after all, it’s ACBA, the country’s only school offering a four-year degree in the traditional building trades. Along with pens, paper, books, and computers, students here learn with trowels, chisels, hammers, and anvils.”

Austin Needs More High Skilled Labor

Locally, Austin Community College is the resource area manufacturers and industries turn to for trained, ready-for-work recruits, according to this article in the Austin American-Statesman. Overall, though, the skilled labor market here remains very tight, with 88 percent of Austin Regional Manufacturers Association members reporting that finding help is a full-time challenge.

Local managers point to the shortage of training facilities as a key part of their struggle to find help. On top of that, the need for up-to-date skills that match an increasingly digitized, computerized work environment often means advancement opportunities for older workers with outdated skills is difficult.

John Newman is the Chief Financial Officer at Athena Manufacturing, and by keeping his eyes open he’s able to spot talent in unlikely places — like the young man he found working in a restaurant whose handiwork showed an aptitude for an open slot at the local fabricator. Newman’s instinct led to a successful hire in a highly competitive industry.

Trades And Industries Must Get Creative

Trades and industries must get creative to attract motivated vocational talent to today’s hi-tech skill sets, says Contractor Magazine. Based on research conducted by the Commercial Construction Index, nearly 95% of contractors experience a moderate to difficult time finding skilled workers at every level.

In an article on how the trades can attract new talent, Contractor Magazine defines four approaches to finding and attracting recruits who are crucial for replacing a shrinking workforce that’s aging out, while expanding much needed skill sets.

Thought about job change? According to This Old House, the construction trades alone need to recruit upwards of seven million workers over the next eight years to fill a growing needs gap across the board. There’s no time to lose if the supply of trained talent is to keep up with the demands of an ever expanding economy requiring high tech service.

Think Career, Not Job

Economic reward over time has always been the major selling point for a traditional four-year college degree. But what if you could attain the same rewards, sooner, by going after what in many cases is a more lucrative career in the trades?

The 84 Lumber Co. is staking their future on recruiting fresh, young talent with the promise of lucrative paychecks based on ROI and hard work, reaching them through an aggressive, and expensive, ad schedule that promotes high pay and rewarding working conditions.

To get the talent they need, 84 Lumbar set up their own training program to teach management and staff basic carpentry and construction skills and concepts. Trainees are paid $40,000 a year, while store managers can pull down as much as $200K annually, or even $1M in extreme high volume markets.

As 84 Lumber and others have discovered, finding the talent necessary to serve and expand their market means taking responsibility for setting the curriculum and funding outreach. In return, as word spreads about the opportunities that exist, a better mousetrap is born and the funnel for finding qualified help begins to fill with applicants ready to take advantage of a bright future.

After decades of neglect, the vocational trades and careers are enjoying a broad revival, buoyed by solid wages and satisfying working environments. Tomorrow’s toolbox is filled with much more than hammers and screwdrivers. It now includes computer screens and phone apps as well.

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