Q: How do you, along with all of the GO CAPS (Greater Ozarks Centers for Advanced Professional Studies) organization, work to entice students into pursuing education in the field of trades?
A: Over the last several decades we have encouraged our high school students to pursue four-year college degrees and have placed more value on this path than any other. We need to pivot from this mindset with the realization that this path is simply not the best for all students. Our upcoming workforce has numerous opportunities to have successful careers that provide incomes which allow for a comfortable lifestyle and a family. The key is not necessarily the four- year degree route, but the understanding that to be successful you must have some type of training and/or certification.
At GO CAPS, we honor all career paths and know that some students will be entering the workforce full-time directly after high school, some will seek certifications and others will pursue four-year degrees or beyond. If a student is entering the workforce immediately after high school, we want to connect them with a local company. Our hope is that they engage enough with a variety of businesses and understand the company cultures to where students envision themselves working there. Why hop from random job to random job, when you can start working for a company doing work you enjoy and then start working your way up within that company? Also, many students and parents simply have no idea that numerous companies provide educational opportunities for their employees including paying for certifications and college courses.
If a student seeks a certification or four-year degree right after high school, we still want that connection to local businesses so students see the careers they aspire to are available locally—they don’t have to leave our region to have the career they want.
We also expose students to a variety of careers under the very broad umbrella of Manufacturing & Engineering. Students hear from those in a variety of industries and learn the educational paths they took. They can hear firsthand that not all of these successful people have four-year degrees.
We also discuss the important work done by those in trade careers and that they are vital to our economy and our everyday lives. Not only do they provide comfort in terms of ensuring we have plumbing, heating, cooling, and electrical and gas service, but that they build the structures in which we live and work as well as the roads and bridges we travel every day.
In addition, we work with Ozarks Technical Community College staff to introduce their programs to our students to make them aware of the certification programs they offer.
Q: Is it a struggle to encourage high school students to attend trade school?
A: I believe we have a great deal of myth-busting to do about trade schools as a direct result of the “you must have a college degree to be successful” mentality we’ve pushed over the years. In some cases, there may be the perception that you only go to a trade school if you can’t cut it in college and this is simply not true. Those opting to go into trades may learn better in a hands-on environment than the theoretical learning environment of college. It doesn’t mean the person isn’t as sharp or capable, they just absorb knowledge differently. It may also be the belief that you have to work in an office environment to have a great career and income when you can have this in any field as long as you have the drive and appropriate training. Students and their parents also need to understand that these are not dead-end jobs that are going to disappear. They are high demand careers that can be very lucrative.
Q: What opportunities does trade school provide that other career paths do not?
A: Trade schools provide hands-on training that appeals to so many and you have an on-the-job training atmosphere in a smaller class setting. You can also obtain your certification in a shorter amount of time than a traditional college program at a significantly lower cost. Many trade schools provide placement services so that students can secure a position upon completion of their program. Employers are desperately seeking employees with trade certifications which means job opportunities and job security are incredibly high.
Q: What are some opportunities that those pursuing jobs in the trades expect from their employers?
A: Careers in trade industries can offer a lot of benefits. For some, the most important aspect is being your own boss and picking and choosing the jobs you take on. For others, it’s an opportunity to complete the work you are trained for and then being able to leave the job behind the moment you leave a job site. Often, younger members in the workforce don’t consider the complete compensation package for a position before they accept it. They fail to consider insurance, education assistance, and retirement benefits along with a host of other perks. Some of those include flexible hours and incentive bonuses for completing work on schedule or ahead of time.
Q: Are there any stereotypes regarding trade school or things that people wrongly associate with pursuing a job in the trades? What are some things we can do to break those stereotypes?
A: We must do a better job of educating students, parents and k-12 educators on a variety of career opportunities including trade industries. The most potent arguments for encouraging students to these paths are career opportunity, compensation and job security as these positions cannot be outsources to other countries. We have to break out of the idea that trade schools are what’s left for non-college bound students and that these positions are not valued as highly. Making students aware of these opportunities at the earliest possible grades is just one way to break this cycle of thinking.
Q: The baby boomer generation is beginning to rapidly retire, leaving many jobs open, but the next generations aren’t interested in pursuing jobs in construction or the trades, why do you think this is?
A: I think this goes back to the perception that these jobs aren’t as highly valued as others and that they are just manual labor jobs that don’t pay well. I also believe there are stereotypes that these workers aren’t academically capable of more. In fact, these workers are sharp as they think on their feet and are constantly problem solving while collaborating with others on projects. They consistently work with mathematic principles as they complete their work whether it’s calculating angles or square footage needs for materials.
Students in classrooms also don’t have the opportunity to see first-hand what this work is really all about or the atmosphere of a job site. We need to find a way to get students out to these job sites and give them the chance to get the more hands-on exposure that can capture their interest.
Q: What needs to be done to show others the wide range of opportunities working in the trades can provide them?
A: Trade industries need to continue marketing their industry at all levels—from the upcoming workforce, to the influencers in their lives such as parents, family members and teachers. Social media and videos seem to have vast appeal to the upcoming workforce. Getting those tools in the hands of these influencers is critical as well.
Q: What steps do you think construction firms can take in order to draw in new employees?
A: They need to get their most relatable and articulate employees in front of students and parents to talk with them about career training, opportunities for advancement, income possibilities and benefits and industry culture.
For more information on GO CAPS, visit https://gocaps.yourcapsnetwork.org/