As demonstrated by a new facility at Evergreen High School, education in skilled trades has come a long way from the traditional wood shop and metal shop classes.
Unveiled this week, the center expands the Evergreen district’s Career and Technical Education programs and will focus on residential construction. As Douglas Greene, the program’s primary benefactor, said at a ceremony: “To students here today: This is a career you may not have looked at. But there’s 800,000 to 1 million unfilled and needed construction jobs across this country.”
The need for skilled trades goes well beyond the construction industry. It includes auto repairers and electricians and plumbers and welders. It includes a wide swath of occupations that require expertise and always will be in demand.
As The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit newsroom, wrote in 2021: “Education for the skilled trades appears to be returning to fashion, according to enrollment trends, survey data and other signals.” And as one trades educator is quoted as saying, “It’s old-school. If you look at where the jobs are, the sweet spot is an associate’s degree with a focus on the trades.”
That is becoming increasingly prevalent, with fewer and fewer students setting their sights on a four-year degree.
Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that, on average, people with a bachelor’s degree earn more and are less likely to be unemployed than people without one. But according to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, the number of good-paying jobs that don’t require a four-year degree has been increasing in about half of the 50 states.
It is the rolling back of a decadeslong trend. NPR reported this year: “High school graduates have been so effectively encouraged to get a bachelor’s that high-paid jobs requiring shorter and less expensive training are going unfilled. This affects those students and also poses a real threat to the economy.”
The reversal can be seen throughout Clark County. In addition to Evergreen’s expanded skills center, Vancouver Public Schools has a Construction Trades magnet program that operates out of Hudson’s Bay High School as a state-approved Apprenticeship Preparation program. Other school districts throughout Clark County also offer training in career and technical education.
And a recent Columbian article highlighted the automotive technology department at Clark College, which includes two programs — the Toyota Technical Education Network training center and the Dick Hannah Initiative for Technician Education with Clark College.
Even for students who don’t make a career out of auto repair, the technical training often is transferable to other careers. The array of educational opportunities is preparing people who in the future will be fixing our vehicles and refrigerators or building our homes.
They will be needed. Various studies have identified a large gap in the demand for workers in skilled trades and the supply of people to fill those positions. That demand also is leading to higher wages.
As one expert told The Hechinger Report: “The biggest thing is attitudes and awareness. Trying to get people to understand that these jobs are high-tech, they’re high-paying, they’re secure.”
All of that points out the benefits of a new trades center in Evergreen Public Schools. Providing a broad curriculum that allows students to find their niche reflects public education at its most effective.