Yesterday my phone rang. When I looked at the number on caller ID, I cringed. As the school district number popped up, I knew that something was up with one of my sons. Hoping one of them was not hurt, I answered. After a pleasant greeting, and a simple introduction, a school counselor said, “I am calling to let you know of a concern about your son. We were discussing his future career plans and he said he absolutely is not going to college. He would prefer to go to trade school. I am a bit concerned, I think he really can do better than that.”I paused for a minute, and collected my thoughts before letting loose on the well-meaning, unsuspecting fellow colleague on the opposite end of the line. All I could think is…
Really? You just said that?
Let me tell you once and for all, no thank you.
Unbeknownst to my colleague she once again gave this teacher a reason to throw a fit and shout at the top of my voice about the importance of trades and technical education.
Here’s my claim: It is time to dump the social stigma and instead realize the importance of these careers. It is time once again to remind ourselves that skilled trades are critical to our future as a whole, and technical training in the skilled trades are a wise move for many of our students. Why?
Skilled artisans and craftsmen are hard to find, and their work cannot be outsourced.
I am a teacher, historic preservationist, and a homeowner. I know firsthand how hard it is to find a quality master mason, to find an electrician that can think out of the box to solve a complicated challenge in a building, and let’s not even talk about how long it takes to find a quality contractor to fix a building, a broken pipe or a collapsed roof. Our current master craftsmen are retiring, and there are few people to replace them, not to mention you can’t necessarily outsource the repair of a historic stone wall overseas. Opportunity is arising, demand Is increasing, and supply is decreasing.
The Return on Investment (ROI) is often higher in skilled trades training than college.
In the world of college loans, student debt, and higher than average cost of living in most metropolitan areas, graduating students need to think smart about their financial future. Education in the skilled trades often costs less than half of a traditional four year school, takes half the time, and scholarships and financial aid are often available through workforce readiness programs. Additionally, most skilled tradespeople will be making more than a middle career educator within five years of starting their career.
There is a deep satisfaction in the ability to be creative in the workplace when you are involved in the trades.
Creativity in the skilled trades? You bet! A day on the job is never the same, and many of our students thrive on the opportunity to problem solve, create solutions to real world problems, and use their knowledge in a hands-on job. Being able to use multiple skills as well as different sides of their brain, makes for long term job satisfaction for the majority of skilled tradespeople.
When we discuss future aspirations with our students, it is time to stop giving lip service to education in the skilled trades and actually support any student who want to take this path into the workforce. It is time to stop the blatant disregard for traditional craftsmanship and skills in our digital world. No one is “too good” for a trades or technical position, rather it is about who is passionate to learn and apply those skills in the workplace. We need those skills, and we need these future leaders in these important fields. After all, it is about their future, and ours.
Michelle Pearson is the 2011 Colorado State Teacher of the Year and a member of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year. She is a middle school social studies teacher in the Adams 12 Five Star School District in Thornton, Colorado, where she has been teaching for 25 years. This post first appeared at EdWeek under the title, Stop Telling Me My Son Can Do Better.