With workers in the skilled trades in steep demand and the cost-benefit ratio of college education under scrutiny, career exploration and workforce readiness programs for young people may be the key to ensuring the success of skilled trades.
College as a default option is being re-evaluated. The average student loan borrower owes nearly $30,000, the cost of a four-year college keeps rising, and the value of that four-year degree isn’t always guaranteed. Meanwhile, about nearly 70% of American companies report a worker shortage, in large part because of a lack of skills.
“Four-year college degrees have been traditionally positioned as the best place to start,” said Greg Wise, managing director of national workforce readiness at Boys & Girls Clubs of America. “At Boys & Girls Clubs, we emphasize post-secondary education overall, which can include college, but can also include trade schools and two-year institutions. Career exploration at all ages is pivotal for young people to understand the array of job opportunities out there and that there’s no singular path to success.”
More than one way to cross the finish line
Wise thinks this approach will help young people better understand and spark interest in skilled trades.
“It’s not a matter of college or no college?’ when it comes to deciding an education and career path,” he said.“It’s ‘what is your return on investment?’ and what are your natural skillsets or interests?’ And the other side of that coin is, ‘where is there demand in the labor market?’ We’re seeing huge retirements in many of the skilled trades, and there isn’t a pipeline of young talent coming in.”
Boys & Girls Clubs of America partners with other organizations and corporations in its mission to help young people reach their full potential, which includes helping them identify career paths via job shadowing, on-site visits, certifications, having professionals come speak at Clubs, and more.
“As part of our partnership with NASCAR, for example, Club kids go to races to learn about the diverse career types and skills that go into the sport,” Wise said. “Youth learn during those visits that, yes, there’s one person driving a car, but there are also skilled laborers—mechanics, electricians, welders, etc., along with many others—who all play a major role in the sport, too. A lot of the kids’ eyes open up and they say, ‘Hey, wait a minute. There are so many opportunities here.’ There are many ways for interest or passion to become gainful, fulfilling employment.
”Skilled trades represent an essential part of America’s workforce,” said Eric Nyquist, chief communications and social responsibility officer at NASCAR. “Trade professionals play a critical role in helping NASCAR put on an amazing show for millions of fans each weekend. Simply put, they are vital to the success of our sport.”
Skilled trades have other advantages. For one, they pay better than many people think—about half of skilled trade workers earn at least $50,000 to start. And many trades employ a “learn and earn” model, meaning that training and apprenticeship coincide with actively working while earning a living.
Access and equity
The key challenge is educating about skilled trades as an option, and the opportunities that exist.
“Through our partnership with Boys & Girls Clubs of America, we are able to engage with youth in middle and high school by preparing, motivating, and inspiring them to explore career opportunities,”said Tellis Bethel, group vice president and chief social innovation officer at Toyota Motor North America. “Skilled technicians have careers in advanced manufacturing at our manufacturing plants and within dealerships to service or repair vehicles. They are able to see firsthand what pathways are available to them through extraordinary, hands-on experiences.”
For example, Toyota leveraged its Technician Training and Education Network (T-TEN) to provide Boys & Girls Club members a firsthand look at the skilled trade career possibilities within the company and industry. Toyota also sponsors $500,000 in scholarships for Boys & Girls Club kids every year.
Wise notes Boys & Girls Clubs of America has a crucial advantage when it comes to educating about the trades. “What’s very unique about Boys & Girls Clubs is our ability to give young people early career exposure. You can’t get exposed to learning about careers in the trades at 17,18,19—you already missed the boat.”
The key thing Clubs provide is access. “You can’t be something if you can’t see it,” he said. “Our goal is to position programming and workforce preparation strategies so young people can identify the career they want to pursue and pursue post-secondary success on their own terms.”
Learn more and support great futures for America’s youth at bgca.org.