With tuitions skyrocketing maybe it’s not surprising that there seems to be some progress when...

With tuitions skyrocketing maybe it’s not surprising that there seems to be some progress when it comes to young people recognizing that skilled trades are a viable and even preferable option when considering a career. 

My daughter’s in high school and recently started researching colleges. Talk about sticker shock!

According to the College Board, the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2017–2018 school year was $9,970 for state residents at public colleges, $25,620 for out-of-state residents attending public universities, and $34,740 at private colleges. Just for tuition and fees! Not counting room and board, books, supplies, late-night pizzas…. In comparison, my folks put me through college at an in-state public institution for about $20,000 for all four years – tuition, fees, room, board, the whole kit and caboodle.

So maybe it’s not surprising that there seems to be some progress when it comes to schools, parents, and young people recognizing that skilled trades, such as technicians, are a viable and sometimes preferable option when considering a career.

Ed Chipalowsky, diesel technology instructor at Monroe Career & Technical Institute in northeast Pennsylvania, told me his program is full. “I’m thinking the tide is starting to change – slowly, but I think it’s changing, as more people are interested in having their children enter into fields where they’re not going to not have a job.”

Chipalowsky sees parents whose own parents bought into the notion that college is the only path to success, who are still paying on their college loans, and are now thinking twice about whether their own kids should be saddled with the same kind of debt. When middle-school classes come to tour the program, he says, teachers’ jaws drop when he starts talking about the wages available right out of high school with the proper training.

Some people say those wages actually aren’t high enough; that just as with drivers, much of the problem with the technician shortage lies in low wages relative to demand. But they’re still more than what most parents and teachers are expecting from a career that doesn’t involve college.

Reneé Fisher, Ryder’s director of maintenance, remembers when vo-tech programs were a part of every school. “Now some larger school districts may have a school that specializes in different careers, and mechanics and technicians would be one of those,” along with programs for the likes of culinary and salon careers. “There’s pros and cons to that. The pro is, thank you for putting it back in the public school system. The con is, when it was in a mainstream school, you would talk to your friends who had that class and think, ‘That may be something I want to do next year,’ or ‘That sounds like something that my brother or sister would be interested in.’ We’re thrilled it’s back in the public school program, but I do wish there were some introductory courses in more public schools.”

There’s also more action in supporting applied technology and two-year programs post high school. For instance, in Tennessee, Gov. Bill Haslam’s Drive to 55 program is a challenge to get 55% of Tennesseans equipped with a college degree or certificate by 2025 (up from the 39% rate in the state when it was launched in 2014.) As part of that effort, the Tennessee Promise program offers scholarships and mentoring to high school graduates attending a Tennessee College of Applied Technology or one of the state’s public two-year community colleges.

My daughter, alas, has her heart set on college, and out-of-state at that. But unlike a lot of parents, it’s not because her dad and I think college is the only way to a successful career. We both have bachelor’s degrees, but we both started fresh out of college working at jobs barely paying above minimum wage.

And covering the trucking industry as long as we have (not to mention seeing the prices when we have to hire a plumber or an electrician), we’re well aware that college is not the only answer. I’m glad it looks like more parents, school systems, and policymakers are starting to realize that as well.

About the author
Deborah Lockridge

Deborah Lockridge

Editor and Associate Publisher

Reporting on trucking since 1990, Deborah is known for her award-winning magazine editorials and in-depth features on diverse issues, from the driver shortage to maintenance to rapidly changing technology.

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