Millennial students should take a second look at vocational schools

Written by Anna Murphy

March 9, 2018

Originally published by the Deseret News.

On its way to the governor’s desk is legislation proposed by Utah Rep. Keith Grover that would create a scholarship for students to attend a vocational school. Here’s why it’s great: Any student from any background who is interested in learning a high-demand skill can qualify for this scholarship.

We need to do a better job of connecting students with their full range of post-secondary options, including vocational schools.

As a millennial, I can say that during my time in high school I never even considered vocational schools. The way they were talked about gave me the impression they were a lower form of education. It wasn’t until after high school that I learned about the variety of options available.

This is unfortunate. Too many students and millennials today aren’t made aware of the full range of post-secondary options. Sadly, this contributes to the widening skills gaps in our country.

Here are three ways we can help young people learn about the importance of vocational schools.

1. Discuss the cost of education

Millennials are willing to break with tradition — especially when it makes practical sense. For example, many young people won’t stay with the traditional 40-year career path but instead will pursue multiple careers and “side hustles.”

The cost of a four-year degree from a public college in 2017-18 was about $83,080, which includes tuition, fees, housing and books. An even more expensive option is a private college or university, amounting to $187,800. This is an outrageous amount, especially for those who are not sure that college will lead to the career or compensation that they want.

Fortunately, a bachelor’s degree is not the only path to success or a good education.

Trade and technical schools are an important option. Most two-year technical programs range from $3,125 to $21,129. And more importantly, these programs may be a better fit depending on the talents, interests and goals of the student.

School counselors and local leadership play an important role in educating students on the cost of education. Counselors should be prepared to discuss all career opportunities with students, not just the pursuit of a traditional college education.

2. Talk about real job opportunities

America’s skilled workforce is aging, creating a growing demand for young laborers with certain skill sets. With 353,000 manufacturing job openings a month across the country, those in the skilled labor force have great career opportunities available to them, including a certain measure of job security.

In 2017, roughly 43 percent of college graduates were underemployed, according to a 2017 New York Fed study — meaning that after four years of classes and up to $180,000 of debt, you have a 43 percent chance of working a job that doesn’t require all the knowledge and skills you paid to learn.

Principals and teachers are uniquely capable of helping students. They can talk to students about career opportunities, invite a range of guest speakers to talk about their career paths, and give students work-based experience in those areas. State-level leaders can continue their work in career pathways — an innovative way of connecting students and industries experiencing a skills gap.

3. Start early

Educating students early on about their career options is vital.

During a committee hearing in this year’s legislative session, a representative from Ogden-Weber Technical College recalled that one of its students had been told by all of her high school friends and counselors that she needed to go to college. However, through the Utah Aerospace Pathways Program, she worked with a company before graduating, and it was so impressed with her work, it offered her a job. The company also offered to help fund the rest of her post-secondary education.

Host of TV’s “Dirty Jobs” Mike Rowe says, “There is no hope without an education, but to hear that and think it means you have to go to college — you’re wrong.” Times are changing. And it’s exciting to think about how Utah legislators and local leaders can do a better job of helping millennial and younger students explore the many post-secondary options available to them.

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