As the 2018-19 school year enters its final months, perhaps you know a young person heading into the next chapter of their life not knowing what comes beyond this school year. Yes, we’ve all heard someone say it’s necessary for young people to get a four-year degree. Or that youth should focus their career aspirations solely on four-year opportunities in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). Even much of the education “news” we see support those ideas as the path to a successful career.

This oft-heard advice seems good and while it’s true that STEM career opportunities abound, most of us overlook (and steer the young people in our lives away from considering) certain STEM career opportunities because we’re living with outdated stereotypes in our minds. To understand the problem requires that we step back and take a broader look.

A review of state and national workforce projections shows skilled and technical trade industries (manufacturing, construction, etc.) offer tremendous opportunity for a variety of successful careers. It is projected that in 2019, 50 percent of the new jobs in Wisconsin will require more than a high school diploma but less than a traditional four-year degree.

Nationally, by 2025, the manufacturing industry will require a highly skilled workforce of approximately 3.5 million workers (ACTE, 2015), as manufacturers in Wisconsin employ 16 percent of the state’s workforce. In 2015, the average manufacturing employee earned more than $68,800 in Wisconsin, nearly $23,000 more than the average salary in the state overall and slightly greater than the median earnings of a young person with a four-year degree.

Despite higher than average earning potential, 70 percent of manufacturing executives indicate there are not enough people qualified with the necessary computer and technical skills for vacancies.

Similarly, the construction industry reports a shortage of roughly one million people though it offers an above average salary of $65,000 – an amount often exceeding the earnings of many four-year college graduates.

There are many good reasons to support or encourage young men and women to consider careers in these fields, as they are no longer the dirty hands jobs of 30 years ago. These are no longer the career opportunities just for “the kids not cut out for college.”

These fields offer high tech, high wage, high skill career opportunities. While many entry-level, high wage positions require less than a four-year degree, progressing along a career path within these industries may require a degree of this nature. For example, 12 percent of the managerial and professional office jobs (i.e. accountant, business administrator, manager, or inspector) in the US are in manufacturing.

In many schools across the state, there are career-oriented classes, programs, and leadership development opportunities to support young people in exploring careers in these industries while they gain valuable skills to succeed in college and in a career. Research has shown education programs that infuse this kind of work‐based learning show promise to improve students’ academic and employment outcomes. More specifically, youth who take career-focused coursework in high school are significantly more likely than their peers to develop skills like problem-solving, project management, and critical thinking. Curriculum we once called “shop classes” now foster highly desirable skills and qualities like time management, decision-making, personal responsibility, strong work ethic, collaboration, and communication. All of these habits are valued greatly by employers and society regardless of the chosen path.

One such career-focused opportunity offered in middle and high school that prepares young people to explore high skill, high wage technical careers is SkillsUSA, which empowers its members to become world-class workers, leaders and responsible American citizens. An integral part of career and technical education courses, SkillsUSA offers teachers and schools a framework that develops personal, workplace, and technical skills in young people. With nearly 170 chapters and almost 3,000 members in Wisconsin, SkillsUSA is a solution to shrinking the skills gap.

To parents and others who have influence over young people, I suggest it pays to keep an open mind to the opportunities in skilled and technical trade careers and to become an advocate for your child.

To learn more about how SkillsUSA Wisconsin is helping young people prepare for high skill, high wage, high demand occupations in manufacturing, graphics, automotive, construction, and all skilled trades, visit www.skillsusa-wi.org, contact your local school or SkillsUSA Wisconsin Executive Director Brent Kindred at brent.kindred@dpi.wi.gov.

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