“While a shortage of workers is pushing wages higher in the skilled trades, the financial return from a bachelor's degree is softening, even as the price — and the average debt into which it plunges students — keeps going up. But high school graduates have been so effectively encouraged to get a bachelor's that high-paid jobs requiring shorter and less expensive training are going unfilled. This affects those students and also poses a real threat to the economy.”
The education system has so effectively pushed students towards going to a 4-year university that the number of skilled-trade workers has progressively dwindled. About 62% of firms are struggling to fill important skilled trade positions; that’s 62% of companies desperate for electricians, engineers, carpenters, and so on. Skilled trade workers are in such high demand that (on average) they make more money than their college counterparts. The stigma surrounding these jobs in the past has always been associated with the idea that blue collar workers make less money. However, with the shortage of those licensed in skilled trades, and the increase in college graduation rates, the opposite has happened. Now, more than ever, students should be introduced to ALL opportunities available to them, not pushed toward a 4-year degree.
In recent years, programs such as the Housing & Building Association (HBA) of Colorado Springs’s “Careers in Construction” have started to combat this need by re-introducing vocational education programs into high schools.
“We decided we had a labor shortage coming at us, and when we did research, we found that dropout rates had increased when vocational education got taken out of high schools,” said Renee Zentz, CEO of the HBA of Colorado Springs. “The hearts of our builders was to restart programs to teach not only professional skills but also life skills.”
In 2015, the Careers in Construction (CIC) program launched with the goal of helping students connect with construction and trade education in the southern Colorado regions. Since then, their reach has grown to supporting vocational education programs in over 10 high schools across Colorado, reaching more than 450 students. The CIC program not only teaches students valuable trade skills, it also leads to a Department of Labor certification in general construction or electrical, plumbing, and carpentry. This May, 90 students are expected to graduate with three years in valuable vocational instruction that will help them begin a lucrative career in the home building and construction industry.
“We need the skilled trades now more than ever,” Says Principle Rob Daugherty of Power Technical. “There’s a huge shortage, and if schools aren’t offering that as an option, we lose a huge resource. This gives students the confidence that there is something out there for them to do besides go to a university or work in food service. And these are high-paying jobs.”
Another initiative taken by Colorado homebuilders is the Colorado Homebuilding Academy. The Colorado Homebuilding Academy is a collaborative, industry-driven program designed to fulfill the need for skilled workers in the homebuilding industry. Their curriculum offers practical training to prepare students for a career in construction as well as providing students with a fast-track to a well-paying job. The academy also offers a Youth Construction Apprenticeship, which gives high school students the opportunity to get hands-on career training which includes 128 on-the-job hours to help prepare them for employment in Colorado’s homebuilding and construction industry.
With an increasing number of students going to college, the need for individuals in skilled trades has dramatically increased. HBA Colorado Springs’s Careers in Construction and the Colorado Homebuilding Academy offer students the opportunity to discover an alternative career path with high-demand and high-paying positions. Through these programs, offered in several school districts across Colorado, students are getting the opportunity to learn valuable trade skills, earn certification, and get hands-on job experience that will ensure success in their trade. Other Homebuilder organizations can look to Colorado for inspiration on how to fill this trade worker shortage by opening the eyes of high school students across the United States to this career potential.