Skilled Trades Overlooked as Career Pathway

by Payton Seppala ‘23

As the school year rolls into the fourth quarter, many seniors have begun committing to colleges around the country, looking to begin the next four years of their life preparing for their future career. For much of their life, they’ve been encouraged by teachers, parents, friends, and family to excel in academics, outclass in athletics, and be unequaled in extracurricular activities, all with the end goal of getting into the best college they can upon graduation.

What has often been looked over, or perhaps even forgotten are the skilled trade jobs of autoworkers, plumbers, welders, construction workers, and the many other trades that help keep our communities running smoothly. Because more and more high school graduates are seeking college degrees over a trade job, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports a “massive shortage of skilled workers” for this year, which, left unchecked, will cause detrimental effects for the American economy.

The root of this problem may stem from the lack of exposure high school students have in skilled areas of work. Vocational classes have been disappearing from high schools for the past 20 years, meaning fewer students are learning different skills such as carpentry or construction. Shop and automotive classes of past years have been replaced by a growing number of honors and AP courses as schools focus their attention on preparing all students for college. Here at Sherwood a shop class once was located in the current engineering room, E151, in which a cabinet of old tools still stands as a reminder of its former days.

Today, most students in MCPS looking to pursue a career in a trade must take extra steps to find the best education for their needs. “Going to Edison and doing their trade programs is a great option, as there are many different fields of study there,” said counselor Bill Sartori. “Internships are another good option.”

Using outside resources such as these, however, means the process for students is more complicated, and takes more commitment. Although these options include classes that may even be better than what was offered in the past, the required travel and time means less students are willing to try them if they aren’t sure about what they want to do as a career.

However, students enrolled in the Edison program are able to travel to Edison in Silver Spring from different MCPS high schools for the second half of the school day to take vocational courses ranging from automotive to construction management to hospitality and tourism and even law enforcement courses. All of these classes are offered in career-specific pathways with many ending in an internship opportunity with a local business. Many courses also grant certifications and awards upon completion, allowing students to enter the workforce directly after graduation, or be better prepared for trade school. Around 15-20 students from Sherwood attend Edison each year. Seneca Valley, which completed construction of its new building in 2021, now offers an extensive list of vocational courses available to students from surrounding high schools as well. Programs like these from such a new school building could signal a shift in MCPS in preparing students for their future careers, moving the focus from college-only to the students’ own exploration of the many different career pathways available after high school.

“I think in the past 5-10 years [MCPS] has begun to swing back in the other direction,” said Resource Counselor Kelly Singleton. “They are beginning to focus on opening up and informing students of more opportunities outside of the traditional 4 year college pathway. Seneca Valley is a good example of this since they have begun offering vocational classes like Edison.”
With more students being able to get to know the trades without the extra steps that are involved today, many students may find skilled work to be worth considering as a career choice, and it could be possible to curb the skilled worker shortage the country is facing now.