Students like Britain have to battle negative stereotypes about trade school careers – stereotypes that technical educators are working hard to challenge. When asked about his education path, Britain said, “Looking back, I think high school really pressures you to go to college, like it’s the only way. My parents never pressured me. I thought if I wanted to have my dad’s life, which is pretty good, that I needed to go to college. But after going that route I was not happy, and I’m way happier now doing my own path.”
He sees the financial benefit as well. “I had pretty good tunnel vision about only going to college. I think the main reason is because I didn’t know much about what the trades had to offer, such as pay, and how much cheaper school is.” By his calculations, a technical degree cost almost $30,000 less per year than a regular university, for a higher starting salary.
Presenters at the Pathways CTE showcase shared similar information. They said that Utah’s impressive economy attracts expanding companies, but jobs are being created faster than they can be filled. The jobs that need to be filled most are skilled trade jobs, including welders, electricians, plumbers and machinists. In the 2017 Economic Report to the Governor, Utah’s economy was reported strong, with continued growth. There were 49,500 jobs created last year, with an annual growth rate of 3.6 percent. The construction field showed the highest growth, increasing by 6.8 percent. Students are needed in these careers, but we need to do a better job of educating students about their choices.
Many impressive programs exist to help students enter these fields. For instance, Hunt Electric Inc. offers an apprenticeship that provides tuition reimbursement, paid on-the-job training, college accredited courses, scholarship programs, and full-time benefits package including a 401K and vacation/holiday pay – all of that right out of high school.
One challenge is getting women into these fields. We learned at the showcase that women make up only 8 percent of the construction industry. Another stereotype is that men are better for many of the trade skills, but this is false. Cody Eaton from Hunt Electric Inc. pointed out that in some cases they prefer women. Women are more organized and detail-oriented, he said, but they are vastly underrepresented in trade skills.
Students who overcome such gender and academic stereotypes can find great long-term success. Ninety percent of students who are CTE concentrators graduated from high school, compared to 85 percent statewide. It has also been shown that a higher proportion of students with an occupational credential are hired than their academic counterparts.
“One, two, four or more” is an important phrase that hopefully represents a coming culture shift. It stands for the idea that “college” is an open-ended term that includes additional training beyond high school. Whether that is a one-year certificate, a two-year associate’s or technical degree, a four-year bachelor’s degree, or more (a graduate or professional degree) – all these pathways are valuable.