Recently I sat down with a professor I had long admired and had a very real and open discussion about higher education, the attendance costs, and the negative and unfair stigma that has often been associated with skilled trades. She is older than me, and has seen trades and how they are viewed and supported societally change over the years, with the past few decades people pushing for high schoolers to aspire mostly to traditional schools of higher education to further their learning.
This is something most everyone I know in higher education agrees with me about: A one size fits all approach to education does a huge disservice to our young people, our economy, and our view regarding not just what people should learn, but how they should learn as well.
According to the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), the average trade school degree costs around $33,000, compared to the daunting $127,000 price tag associated with many Bachelor degree programs. In our own industry, CEDIA prides itself on the total cost of two brand new pathways (New Hire Essentials Package), with their corresponding certifications, being less than $1,500 for a member. For many achieving certifications from trade schools, the starting rate of pay can go up to $25.00 per hour, with other trades such as aircraft technicians having a starting salary of $50,000 and up, only requiring on-site technical training. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Education recently noted that those with trade and technical educations are actually more likely to be hired, and more quickly, than their academic peers who went through traditional colleges and universities. With shorter learning times, much less in tuition costs, and a higher rate of return upon graduating out of a program, the question remains: why are skilled trades often viewed through a negative lens?
The Keys to the Issue
The best way for us to break the stigma often associated with skilled trades can be broken into what I like to note as our three significant industry action items—a Call to Action, if you will.
- Accept and support all kinds of learning, and all areas of study, recognize the way in which students learn and the topics they learn, and abandon the mindset of “acceptable programs and schools.”
- Applaud students and their families who are self-aware and able to accurately assess the needs of the student first without falling victim to misguided opinions attached to non-traditional learning experiences as well as institutions of higher learning.
- Consider giving back to our industry by bringing your success and expertise to others by presenting at skilled trade and industry related conferences (like Expo and ISE), writing blogs, and maybe even program teaching at a local trade school. Your success will provide a clear and enticing illustration for those interested in our industry.
You may have heard me use the phrase, “we are strongest when we are stronger together.” As we continue to see our nation struggle with shortages in the area of skilled trades, we can be a very real champion for helping to solve this problem. Supporting the education in our industry, believing in the certifications we provide, and upholding the standards within your own organizations that mirror those supported, explored, and developed through a joint CEDIA/CTA/ANSI accredited standards body, are all ways we can continue to commit to raise the bar together and showcase this industry as the viable, exciting, and fulfilling career option it is.