As parents, teachers, and guides, we strive to help students prepare for great lives. This involves helping them learn more about themselves, educational paths and potential careers. In this process, is it possible that we’ve ignored some fantastic opportunities in the skilled trades? Here are three reasons why we may (consciously or unconsciously) choose to steer youth away from the skilled trades:
1. We assume that an academic degree offers the best path possible.
For years, schools and parents have pushed students towards academic pursuits, and away from skilled labour. "There's that perception of the bachelor's degree being the American dream, the best bang for your buck," said Kate Blosveren Kreamer, deputy executive director of Advance CTE, an association of state officials who work in career and technical education.
This mindset has had an impact on students. The proportion of high school students who earned three or more credits in occupational education — typically an indication that they're interested in careers in the skilled trades — has fallen from one in four (1990) to one in five now, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Furthermore, the Washington State Auditor found that good jobs in the skilled trades are begging for applicants because students are being universally steered to bachelor's degrees.
Unfortunately, we may be funnelling students into college who shouldn’t be there in the first place. ‘There is an emphasis on the four-year university track in high schools’ said Chris Cortines, who co-authored the report. Yet, nationwide, three out of ten high school grads who go to four-year public universities still haven't earned degrees within even six years, according to the National Student Clearinghouse, which tracks this.
- We assume that tradespeople cannot have an intellectual life.
We have created a false-dichotomy in our schools: either you work hard, succeed academically and attend college, or you struggle at school and fall back on a lesser path, such as a skilled trade. This is unfortunate, as this point of view is both incorrect and destructive. For many students, the skilled trades are actually a better path to money and happiness. In addition, we need hard working, successful workers in the trades just as much as we need college-educated workers.
If one does choose the skilled trades path, there is no reason why they couldn’t pursue their intellectual and personal development. In fact, one argument in favour of this thinking goes as follows: the flexibility and shorter working hours in the trades can give better access to culture and opportunities to pursue other interests. With all of the available digital content today (ebooks, podcasts, videos, courses), one could easily pursue topics of interest and continue their intellectual development.
- Lack of awareness about skilled trade opportunities.
There are many myths perpetuated about the skilled trades. Some believe the jobs are too physically demanding, the working conditions are bad or the jobs are mostly for men.
Whatever the stereotype, we need to do more work to help students, teachers and parents learn more about what these jobs really look like. Mike Rowe, host of the TV Show ‘Dirty Jobs’ has been trying to change people’s minds about the skilled trades for years: "You have to make [skilled trades work] aspirational," he said. "You have to change the image of the opportunity."
Once we learn the truth about the trades, we quickly learn about the great job prospects, salaries and learning opportunities that are available.
How can we help youth explore the skilled trades?
A great place to start are the Trade Cards, a hands-on tool that sparks the exploration process through interactive activities. You can learn more about the Trade Cards here: https://mysparkpath.com/collections/all/products/single-trades-card-deck
What other reasons would you add to our list?