Trades groups working with parents to direct students to technical programs

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Christine Lundie, Career Development Center Coordinator at South Burlington High School. Photo by Anne Wallace Allen/VTDigger

[H]Angry with workers, trade associations and construction companies have long recruited high school students into technical schools and programs.

Now companies want to help convince their parents that they might be suitable for a job in the trades after high school.

“I think a lot of kids dream of their kids going to college,” said Christine Lundie, who has worked at South Burlington High School for 15 years. Lundie is the coordinator of the school’s career development center. “People have ignored the opportunities offered by trades, which amazes me. Have you paid a plumber lately? »

The Vermont Associated General Contractors (AGC) is releasing educational materials this month that students can use to show skeptical parents that an apprenticeship or technical training will lead to a well-paying job that offers variety and promises progression.

The material presents the hypothetical objections of parents such as “you are smart. Construction is for people who don’t do well in school,” and offers possible answers such as:

“The construction trades require strong math and science skills, as well as critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

“I can take on new skills and responsibilities like project management, people management and business management, providing opportunities for ongoing learning and new experiences.

“It’s a job that requires lifelong learning.

The MCO documents present a compelling argument on compensation. Vermont’s AGC says construction workers in Vermont earn an average of $61,762 a year, compared to an average salary of $47,359 for all other industries. To the parent statement: “Construction jobs don’t pay well,” the MCO suggests students counter with:

“I will be paid well from day one and will have little to no debt… my salary will increase each year until I am certified.

“My salary continues to increase with my experience throughout my career.

“My salary can be equivalent to the salary of an accountant, an engineer or many other traditional academic careers.”

Another reason crafts are important to consider is the high cost of a liberal arts degree, said Michael Metz, who founded Generator Makerspace in Burlington. Metz said college debt suppresses entrepreneurship.

“It’s an incredibly awful burden when you’re 21 and you’re $100,000 in debt,” Metz said. “It can affect 30 years of your life. This can affect your risk taking. Start-up entrepreneurs, many of them come out of college and say, “I can’t take this risk, I can’t get into a business that doesn’t allow me to pay my debt.”

Matt Musgrave, who leads government relations for the Vermont MCO, said he thinks many parents don’t know anyone who works in the trades and haven’t thought of it as an option.

“Unless it was a household that was a trades household, that’s the real challenge,” he said. “Because they don’t see why their son or daughter would want to go into the trades if they had been someone who works in an office or a doctor or a lawyer, it’s kind of that missing link.”

Mary Anne Sheahan, Director of Vermont Talent Pipeline. Photo of the Vermont Business Roundtable

Parents may also not know that technical education has advanced since the days when vocational schools prepared the children of the poor for employment. Many technical and vocational programs these days offer degrees and even college credit, said Mary Anne Sheahan, executive director of the Vermont Talent Pipeline, an industry-led program created to help companies find workers whose they need.

“There’s a disconnect between what parents know to be available and what they remember when they went to school,” Sheahan said. “It’s different now. It is a professional and technical training.

High school counselors and industry leaders say many high schools and state technical centers are doing a great job of connecting students to trades. Some high schools offer internship programs that place students in companies. Most policy makers in this area say schools need to start introducing career information to students at least in fifth grade.

Sheahan would like to see more internships. Many young students don’t know what the options are and don’t yet know what kind of work they would like, she said.

“Other states require that by the time you complete eighth grade, you must have completed four careers,” she said. “How about we do something like that?”

Another barrier, Sheahan said, is that high school counselors and others often have no incentive to steer kids in this direction.

“A lot of this happens when a student leaves the regular system and goes to the tech center, the dollars that flow into that school system actually follow the student,” she said. “How hard are you going to work on this if you know $18,000 is going to leave your school?

Metz, who earned an MBA and worked in a private company for most of his career, said he himself struggled to devise an alternative path for his children, even though he now runs an organization which offers non-academic pathways to training and work. .

“I was brainwashed like everyone else, and I probably brainwashed my kids,” he said. “My son who hates school refused to go back to graduate school and he passed. Just like a bunch of other people. Look at Google, look at some of these companies; these founders did not complete their university studies.

The AGC says earnings for construction workers jumped 6% in 2015, nearly double the average wage increase nationwide. And it’s not uncommon for very experienced plumbers to earn in the six figures. The Vermont group is spending several thousand dollars on its campaign to change parents’ minds. It is modeled after the one created by their Alabama counterpart.

“A significant amount of time, money and effort will be put into this because it’s really challenging,” Musgrave said. “If we don’t get these young people here in Vermont working, and the older people who are changing careers, as a state, we’re going to have to outsource and it’s going to cost more for our roads and our highways.”

When it comes to career information, teens really listen to their parents, Sheahan said.

“When you talk to schools, they always say, ‘When you get the parents on board, the students will follow,'” she said.

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