Many people across the U.S. believe that your high school education is supposed to be followed by college. This understanding originated from postwar America; because white-collar work was booming, public and private high schools were deemed most successful if they graduated students to college. At the same time, the rarity of a college degree made life itself more profitable, and opened the door to more opportunities for those who were able to pursue one.
Although that mentality still exists, times have changed. Forbes concluded that college tuition is rising nearly eight times faster than wages. The skilled trades offer viable career options — especially since the schooling is often shorter and the pay often higher — yet few students consider the possibility. Laser cutting and measuring, for instance, are great skills and can be extremely accurate — within one nanometer (one billionth of a meter).
“Our biggest challenge today is that guidance counselors push every student into college,” said Jim Reid, director of apprenticeships for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM). Tim Baber, professor of manufacturing technology at College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita and one of Reid’s contemporaries, stated his agreement. Regarding his high-school age son, he said, “All he hears is college, college, college.”
This has led to a push from schools all over the nation to get more students interested in trade education. From girl scouts visiting high-tech welding, automotive, and diesel technician school to high school programs that offer carpentry instead of traditional classes, people are slowly realizing the career potential that skilled trades offer.
“The trades,” said Greg Sizemore, ABC’s vice president of environment, health, safety, and workforce development. “are not merely an alternative to college. A trade is equal to college. If you’re a Ph.D. and you’re at home on a Saturday night in July and your air conditioner quits, the smartest person around is somebody who can fix that air conditioner.”
He’s right; life as we know it revolves around people who know how to build and fix things. Think about the last time you had to take your car to a shop for repairs. Whether you received auto body damage from the weather, a fender-bender, a high-speed collision, or pure and simple negligence, your ability to get back on the road depended on the skills and training of your mechanic.
There is a remarkable amount of attention and dedication that goes into learning a trade. For example, CNC experts can achieve tight tolerances as small as 0.005 inches — an incredibly precise and minuscule measurement. Without the knowledge of these people, our world would cease to function.
“The trades are one of the most noble career choices that any individual can make,” Sizemore said. “Banks would not be built. Buildings to house machines, hospitals, and any other structure would not be built without the trades. It’s a career choice, not just a job.”