Most have heard of the skilled trades gap. A number of writers, including myself, have shared their concern over the number of skilled trade jobs open versus the number of skilled trade workers available and willing to fill those positions. And if you haven’t read any of those pieces, then it’s possible you heard Mike Rowe, host of Dirty Jobs, speak at a congressional hearing in 2011, 2014, and/or 2017. At all those hearings, Mike spoke about the importance of rethinking society’s outlook on career and technical education and skilled trade professions. As Mike says, “If you want to make America great again, you’ve got to make work cool again.”

And to Mike Rowe’s point, when did skilled trades become a consolation prize or alternative to college? At what point did skilled trades go from being an equal post-high school option to a lesser option? Why do so many school systems, guidance counselors, and parents fail to mention that a skilled trade can take years to obtain, sometimes requiring more education than a 4-year college degree?

According to Forbes, “student loans now make up the largest chunk of U.S. non-housing debt… more than both credit cards or auto loans.” Forbes says today’s youth have it harder than any previous generation because working through college and obtaining a college degree with little to no debt is harder than it’s ever been before and without scholarships, sailing through college without debt is nearly impossible. “The cost to attend a university increased nearly eight times faster than wages” over the years, Forbes shares.

The skewed perception of skilled trades and astronomical increase in the cost of a college education is a massive problem. Not only are schools, guidance counselors, parents, and communities doing a disservice to youth by not presenting armed services, college, and skilled trades as equally respected and revered post-high school choices, they’re also doing a disservice to those who employ skilled trades employees.

Employers within the skilled trade professions seek people who want to be in the skilled trade workforce, not people who see the skilled trade areas as plan-B. Employers in the skilled trades want the best and the brightest youth to find their way to their door. Instead of corralling our brightest students in the room into what some schools call ‘gifted programs’ that groom students for college, why aren’t the brightest students being given all their post-high school options and encouraged to pick the one that works best for them?

At the end of the day, society needs to do a better job of educating students about all their post-high school career options without bias toward any one choice. Although it may be hard to admit, America, as a whole, seems to invest more time, money, and excitement into one dance of someone’s life, prom, than they do helping youth explore different career options.

For prom, schools book after-prom a year in advance. About six months before prom students vote on a theme, which triggers the purchase of decorations. Closer to prom, voting for prom court occurs. Promposals, which is an elaborate way to ask someone to go to prom with you, rival wedding proposals. Hundreds of dollars are spent on a dress, hair updo, manicure, pedicure, tanning, limo, jewelry, and other items. Parents are invited to take pre-prom photos at school and then, the same parents often host elegant pre-prom dinners. Newspapers are sent the photos of the newly crowned King and Queen. The list of dollars spent, time invested, and excitement garnered for a three-hour dance could continue for the rest of this piece.

When we think of the conversation, time, excitement, and money spent on prom versus the amount of conversation, time, excitement, and money spent on exploring post-high school careers, the difference is alarming. I’m not saying any less effort should be spent on prom, I’m merely pointing out that if that much effort is spent on a dance then it seems reasonable to invest the same amount of effort, at the minimum, into helping our youth explore their post-high school career options.

The truth is pursuing a skilled trade takes education, pursuing a skilled trade can be the gateway to a college education that is paid for as you work in your skilled trade arena, pursuing a skilled trade is a phenomenal way to avoid student loan debt and most importantly, pursuing a skilled trade is worthy of the same respect as all other post-high school career options.

Author: Evelyn Lindell