An article entitled ‘Dirty Jobs’ Star Mike Rowe: Want to Make Six Figures? Become a Plumber made headlines in 2019. Mike discussed the skilled trades gap and the salaries waiting for people unafraid to work with their hands.
The article says, “To get people into these [skilled trades] jobs and to fix the escalating burden of leaving them unfilled, Rowe says we need to get our priorities in order. Step one? Bring back shop class.”
What schools expose youth to matters. Exposure to skills and occupations creates a comfortability with those professions and allows youth to fully consider where their interests, skills, and passions are best nurtured. If you only expose youth to specific career fields, those are the career fields they’ll likely gravitate towards in the future. If you expose youth to all career fields, youth will gravitate toward what fits their talents and goals, not just what feels familiar.
Children Dream of What They Know
In 2020, TheBalanceCareers.com identified the top 15 careers that children say they want to pursue. The top 6 were:
It’s not a mystery why the above list of careers hold children’s hearts. Those careers in the list are the ones children are exposed to and that are highlighted on children’s television programming. As a result of that exposure, children connect to those careers and understand them. That exposure and sense of connection and familiarity excite children about those jobs.
Shop class is exposure for the skilled trades; it’s a window to paths youth may not know exist. Shop class gives skilled trades a better likelihood of making someone’s ‘top career choices’ list.
The History of Shop Class & Its Derailment From the Tracks
Hub & Spoke discussed the evolution and, in some cases, extinction of shop class and made the following two repeat-worthy comments:
LET’S TALK SHOP
“Up until the 1950s, everyone took shop class– or career and technical education (CTE) courses. But then, the idea of ‘tracking’ caught on. Students would follow different tracks according to their ability (or their perceived ability). So, a college-bound student would take advanced writing, math, history, and science classes. A student on a non-college track took vocational training with basic academic courses.”
VEERING OFF TRACK
“Anyone see a problem here? Well, there are several. Tracking was often done by socio-economic status and race– not aptitude or even interest. This gave the vocational track an underserved stigma: it was remedial. It was second choice. If you were ‘smart,’ you were going to college. If not… You took shop class.”
Just like students are required to take multiple math classes, even if they have zero aspirations to do any math beyond balancing their checkbook, students should be required to take a shop class. Even youth with no aspirations of working with their hands gain an understanding and respect for skilled trades when immersed in them… even if it’s only for a course.
Shop class isn’t archaic; it’s timeless. The world didn’t outgrow shop class; it stopped appreciating its worth. It’s time to treat shop class like a window to a stable, rewarding, and financially lucrative career field. Shop class must return to its former glory, or the world will pay the price of more skilled trades jobs available than there are people willing and excited to fill them.