by Ryan T. a winner of the 2017 HomeAdvisor Scholarship Program

The 2017 HomeAdvisor Scholarship Program awarded $5,000 scholarships to three outstanding students who submitted essays outlining their ideas to solve the trade labor shortage. Essays were first reviewed internally then sent to an esteemed panel of HomeAdvisor Service Professionals who made the final winning selections. Want to know more? Click here.

What would be your strategy for solving labor shortage?

Relentless rain, howling winds, roaring thunder, torrential flooding, bolts of lightning that lit up the sky line like fireworks on the 4th of July. This, met with the inconsolable fear of danger that my family, friends, and fellow Houstonians faced as the water levels continuously rose to historical records. I could only pray that soon the city would start to feel some relief. This was my experience, and the experience of countless Houstonians who were impacted by the devastating Hurricane Harvey that pounded the city from August 25th through August 29th, leaving the city virtually under water and causing an estimated $150 to $180 billion in damage. The need for skilled laborers was never more apparent than after the storm. Hurricane Harvey caused catastrophic damage to the city and the city had to recruit skilled laborers from neighboring cities and even states to assist with rebuilding the city. It was impressive to see how many workers were there to lift a helping hand to a city in need. This experience was a teachable moment to many Americans because it highlighted just how vital skilled laborers are to the country, and more specifically to the economy; skilled laborers help provide the solid foundation (literally and figuratively) of which masterpieces are made and communities are built.

Encouraging others to attend trade school is vital to a healthy economy and fully- functioning community as well as to solving the labor shortage. I believe it can be accomplished by (1) incorporating technical curriculum in schools, (2) working to dispel the negative perception of technical workers, and (3) obtaining corporate promotion.

A. Incorporate Technical Education Programs in School Curriculum

1. Provide Resources & Information to Students Starting in Elementary School

At an early age, I knew that I liked to work with my hands and wanted a career that allowed me to do so. A four-year university was just not for me, but I didn’t know about alternative routes that I could take to pursue a fruitful career doing what I love. During my educational career (elementary school, middle school, and even high school), I can remember walking down the halls seeing flags decorated with the logos and school colors of different four-year colleges in Texas; they never had any flags similarly decorated for technical schools in Texas.

Too often students are pushed towards pursuing four-year colleges, however, four-year universities are not for everyone. It is therefore important for teachers to hone in on what the interests and skills of his/her students are and then nurture and develop those interests and skills.

Teachers, and parents as well, must get to the essence of who that student is and what they enjoy. This is important because those students who have no interest in attending a four-year university are put at a significant disadvantage because they are not being guided down the track that will provide them with their own sense of career fulfillment; and in essences, happiness. As such, I think that starting at elementary school, students should be exposed to resources (whether they go on field trips to technical/trade schools, or even have representatives from technical/trade schools come to their school to provide them with information, put on a show-and-tell, or provide them with hands-on activities) or information, such as brochures about technical schools. Knowledge is power towards building a solid foundation. I believe that incorporating these types of programs that provide early exposure to “non-traditional” career routes is vital to promoting students to have fruitful careers after graduation.

2. Provide Apprenticeship Programs to Students in High School
I believe that incorporating apprentice programs in high school will also encourage students to attend trade school. Most high schools allow, and in fact encourage, their students to obtain an internship in their field of interest. The students typically receive an internship credit, hands-on experience in their potential future career, and earn money while doing it. The purpose is to provide students with insight and exposure to their area of interest to better prepare them for selecting the best college and college program for them. However, this wonderful opportunity all too often is not provided to students who have interest in working with their hands. At my high school, unfortunately, I didn’t have this option. I firmly believe that had I had this opportunity, I would be further along in my career as a welder. I think broadening the scope of apprenticeship programs could be a successful pipeline to students from high school to entering trade schools and subsequently working as a skilled laborer. Moreover, high school counselors need to provide their students with information regarding trade school opportunities during the college application process.

B. Dispel the Negative Perception of Trade Schools and Trade Workers

Trade schools and trade workers get a bad rap. I believe there needs to be a conversation regarding the negative perception associated with trade workers. Often times parents don’t present trade school as a viable option for their children to pursue because of the negative connotation that often accompanies careers in this field. I think that this goes hand-in-hand with common misconceptions regarding the profession. Parents want the best for their children and their lack of awareness of the fruitful opportunities that careers in this field provide are often at the root of the negative perception. I believe that there are several ways to attack this beast by providing information regarding how trade jobs are (1) important to the country, (2) financially fruitful, and (3) in abundance.

1. Important to the Country
As discussed above in Section I, trade workers keep the country moving; they allow us to have fully functioning communities. (Please see Section I).

2. Financially Fruitful
Trade jobs are financially fruitful. I, myself, didn’t know exactly how rewarding they were until just recently. The opportunities are endless for trade workers; however, you get out what you put in. #GoBigOrGoHome and I’m from Texas, and #EverythingIsBiggerInTexas. That’s the motto that I live by. Many jobs in the technical field have a significant earning capacity, some as much as, or more than careers that require a degree from a four-year university. I think that making this more known to the public will greatly help to dissipate the negative perception associated with trade workers.

Moreover, most trade schools are two-year programs, thus allowing eager students to get out and start their career earlier. Furthermore, trade schools typically cost less in tuition and fees than four-year colleges. Trade school workers will therefore graduate with less debt than a student from a typical four-year college. This allows us to start enjoying the fruits of our labor much sooner, as opposed to feeling the pressure and stress of having to pay for hefty school loans that are typically associated with four-year colleges. The debt to income ratio of trade workers as compared to individuals who graduate from a four-year university is an excellent selling point for any person.

3. Greater Job Security
Students are graduating from college at record rates. However, nowadays, a degree from a four-year college isn’t enough to secure a decent paying job. All too often students are graduating from four-year colleges, eager to start their career in order to pay off debt, only to realize that their happily ever after may not come as quickly as expected. However, there is a need for trade workers. Having the security of knowing that there will be little debt, a reasonable income, and a need for workers in my field was very encouraging for me when deciding to go to trade school and selecting the trade that I wanted to pursue, welding. I believe that if more students knew these statistics that some who pursued a four-year college out of pressure (whether due to their perceived financial earnings post-graduation or to appease their parents), would have reconsidered this route if their true passion was in a trade field, had they had this information.

C. Encourage Corporate Promotion

I believe that corporate promotion of trade jobs would help to encourage others to pursue a technical education and careers in this industry. Not only would the message have the potential of reaching hundreds of thousands of people, but it would also help to change the image that is commonly associated with trade workers. The message could include information regarding the need for skilled laborers, the importance of their role in the community, and even the role that skilled laborers have played with that particular corporation, whether it’s with their plumbing system, welding, or even manufacturing. These images help to promote awareness of the profession and softens the image sometimes associated with the profession.

II. What would you do to encourage others to attend trade school instead of a four-year college?

Finances were, and are still are a significant concern of mine. When trying to figure out how I was going to finance school, I searched near and far for scholarships, only to be disappointed by the lack of scholarship opportunities available to those students who want to pursue a career in the trade profession. As such, once I graduate and am financially stable, I would like to provide scholarship opportunities to youth who are pursuing careers in the trade profession. I want to help ease their financial burden associated with paying for school and sustaining their cost of living. Moreover, I would take an active role in the strategies I discussed above in Section I. More specifically, I would participate in TSTC’s outreach efforts and promoting it among the individuals in my own community.