Trading Places: Students Starting to Shun Conventional Ed for Trade Ed
America’s current labor shortages have highlighted an important truth: we need more people with useable trade skills and less people with nearly worthless woke-laden diplomas and degrees. Students are beginning to understand this economic reality and are gravitating to schools and colleges that emphasize trade education.
A recent article in The Washington Post noted, “education for the skilled trades appears to be returning to fashion, according to enrollment trends, survey data and other signals.” There are several reasons for this trend.
For example, “Americans can see firsthand the labor shortages in fields such as construction, transportation and logistics, along with rising pay for those kinds of jobs and the lower debt and shorter timetables needed to train for them.”
As a result, “Trade careers have also gotten higher levels of respect as labor shortages underscore their importance.”
At the same time, young people are catching on that a conventional education focused on mostly non-marketable study areas will not pave their way to a prosperous financial future.
The Post observes, “One trend reviving interest in education in the trades appears to be growing doubt among high school students and those changing careers about the value of a four-year college degree,” with the proportion of high-schoolers considering a four-year education plunging from 71 percent to 48 percent since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Aaron Tallman typifies the young person who has re-thought the future. Tallman asks, “why would I take four years and go into a field I don’t know anything about, spend the money, spend the time, to go into something where there’s not even any demand?”
Shamar Kerr, a Pennsylvania trade-college student, said that high schools “try to push you to universities,” but he “didn’t like the idea of learning academic-type stuff that I didn’t think I was going to use.”
While trade colleges are becoming more popular, regular K-12 public schools have done little to meet the demands of their young consumers and the marketplace.
Instead, public schools seem more interested in students taking additional politicized classes, such as California’s new high school ethnic studies requirement.
Thankfully, in states with school-choice options, young people have the opportunity to take advantage of trade education in places like charter schools.
Power Technical (PTEC), a charter school in Colorado, offers a trade education to children starting from the sixth grade, including woodworking, metal work, welding and machine work.
The school states: “The mission of Power Technical is to prepare students to enter the workforce with the skills necessary to be successful in a trade while also having the character and work ethic to become the most valuable members in their chosen trades.”
“We need to bring the skilled trades back to the mainstream,” says Rob Daugherty, principal of PTEC, which is part of the James Irwin network of charter schools.
He notes, “We’ve been brainwashed into thinking that a four-year university is the only way to success and now we know that’s simply not true.”
Data back up Daugherty’s contention. According to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, half of the states in the country report that the number of jobs with median pay of $55,000 per year or higher, which do not require a university degree, has been rising.
Daugherty says, “I know a young welder who is making $200,000 to $300,000 a year.”
“When you consider spending four years in [a university] and having a $100,000 debt versus starting right away and having no debt, you’re a $100,000 ahead before you even talk about making money,” he points out.
“The trades are never going away,” says Dillon, a PTEC student. “We’ll always be building something, we’ll always be fixing something,” he says, because “As a society we are always creating.”
Yet, America’s regular public schools are failing to give students the skills they need to take advantage of the three million skilled-trade jobs that are going unfilled.
Policymakers, therefore, need to expand school choice so that students have more options like PTEC. As Daugherty emphasizes, his charter school in Colorado Springs “needs to be replicated and visible in every community all across the country.” Indeed, America’s economic future depends on it.
–Lance Izumi is senior director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute. He is the author of the new book The Homeschool Boom: Pandemic, Policies, and Possibilities.