Would you like to learn more about vocational programs and trade jobs? Contact Labor United!

The tale of the overworked, stressed, and uneasy high school student preparing for college is nothing new. Coupled with increasingly difficult standards to meet, students are often stifled by the expectation that if they don’t attend college, there’s little hope for a decent career. Why? That’s what they’re being told.

Throughout our nation’s history, American high school students were taught skills required for trade jobs in addition to skills that are required to ensure acceptance into a four-year-university, such as reading, writing, and arithmetic. Woodshop, metal working, auto body shop and other trade skills classes were ubiquitous across high schools in preparation for future trade jobs or professions. Then, an educational philosophy was introduced in the 1950s where students followed different educational tracks based on individual abilities. Those headed for college focused primarily on traditional academic concepts (Latin, creative writing, science, and math). These students did not participate in courses that were designed to enhance hands-on skills for future trade jobs and careers. Meanwhile, those not headed to college would take basic academic courses in conjunction with classes that were developed to relay and sharpen skills required by trade jobs.

This framework faced an intense backlash. It came to be viewed as a hierarchy that placed students into strict categories based on socioeconomic level and race. This contributed to social tensions that still exist today, with many believing the system showed biases toward college-bound students instead of the vocationally inclined. While a four-year university is by no means a wrong choice, it is not the only choice.

Recognition of other options, such as trade or vocational programs, is sorely lacking in today’s school system. Parents have also grown more sensitive to heeding the advice of school counselors. Especially with the stigma of students who don’t attend college being “subpar,” many parents feel mounting pressure to veer their child in a certain direction. In dealing with his own students’ crippling anxiety and doubts about pursuing college, English teacher and vocational supporter David McGrath came to the same conclusion: “Vocational education is seen as a dumping ground for below-average children.” Even pupils who genuinely enjoy vocational or trade jobs are influenced by popular opinion.

Not all students learn best in a classroom; some prefer hands-on activities. Not everyone is enamored with Shakespeare or has an affinity for Greek tragedies. Some are mechanical, others are artistic. And that is completely okay — that is life. Ultimately, the person who knows the student best is the student him or herself.

Students in this limbo between what they truly feel and what they feel pressured to do have often felt there isn’t a way out because the option hasn’t been formally presented to them.

It is not “college or bust;” there are other options for continued education after high school. 

Awareness of these trade programs and careers is growing daily. Because more young people choose college over trade jobs, there’s a shortage of skilled trades workers. This has created high demand for these trade professions and increased the quality of the programs themselves. Additionally, students in these trade programs earn while they learn: the average starting pay for trade job apprentices ranges from 40-50 percent of the journeyworker wage rate established by the specific trade’s bargaining agreement. More so, this rate progressively increases each year.

The requirements to get into an apprenticeship program are also minimal, some including:

  • Must be at least 18 years of age
  • Must possess sufficient reading and math skills to satisfactorily complete on-the-job training and related technical instruction (a high school diploma or GED is recommended)
  • Must be physically capable of performing the essential functions of the apprenticeship program
  • Must have a valid driver’s license and proof of reliable transportation
  • Must pass a drug test

At Labor United, we feel inspired to educate young people on trade jobs and careers, because they are the ones at the helm of their life paths. Trades vocational programs provide opportunities to build strong skills, families, and people. Sawdust is in our veins, and it’s made us the proud individuals we are today.

Would you like to learn more about vocational programs? Contact Labor United!