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Over the past several decades, students have been encouraged to continue their education past high school and into higher education. During this same timeframe, vocational education in our high schools has pivoted away from learning trades such as auto-mechanics, carpentry, electrical, plumbing, and welding. Instead, the focus has shifted to niche education/technology industries where students learn CAD drafting, artificial intelligence, and cloud computing. Most of these career paths place an underlying emphasis on higher education as the next step in the process. As a result of this shift, we have fewer high school graduates who want to enter the workforce immediately. Those few are often unaware of or prepared for, possible high-paying careers in the construction industry. As a result, there is a shortage of skilled tradespeople in construction.

Construction nationwide is expected to grow from 1.8% in 2021 to 3.7% in 2022.  Constant growth, aging infrastructure, an existing shortage of construction workers, and a lack of vocational training, combine to put us in dire straits. Meanwhile, universities have vast networks, social media platforms, and intense recruiting efforts to attract young people and their dollars into their schools. Comparatively, very little on promoting the benefits of construction careers and does not have access to the same recruiting tools and budgets.

This issue didn’t happen overnight and it is going to take time to fix. Schools need to re-examine the vocational school programs and increase the exposure to careers in the construction industry.  High schools should develop co-enrollment in high schools and community colleges or trade schools, creating formal apprenticeship programs. Students would have the opportunity to begin learning valuable and marketable skills leading them to a master craftsman level. This could create a more formal apprenticeship program, much like ones in the past where a person progressed in their trade from apprentice to journeyman to master.

As we continue to develop our state and restore our cities, we are going to need more construction workers. Our baby boomer construction workers are retiring, and we don’t have younger construction workers to follow, especially those at a master craftsman level. A change to our educational approach could start filling the void in this industry. 

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