Are we all waiting for the backlash over exorbitant student loan debt? It can’t come soon enough.
Last month I wrote up a profile of Bob Clark, who runs the HVACR program at College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, that appeared in our sister publication Contracting Business. Clark is of the opinion that the biggest impediment to workforce development is that there are too many psychologists. Psychologists are the high school guidance counselors who direct students to go to college to get degrees in art history.
Part of the problem is lack of resources, Clark says, noting the relatively paltry sum Congress has allocated for the trades compared with billions of dollars thrown at nursing education. He has a point. In June, I accompanied members of Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors – National Association as they lobbied Congress for renewal of the Carl D. Perkins Career & Technical Education Act, that’s currently funded at $1.2 billion. During the last Congress, the House of Representatives reauthorized the law with a $15 million increase (a whopping 1.25 percent!), but the session ended before the bill could move through the Senate.
Not telling students anything about career and technical education is a failure of the American educational system.
But beyond money, Clark agrees with Laurie Crigler, incoming president of PHCC-National Association who’s profiled in this issue, that perception may be the bigger problem. Clark points the finger at the aforementioned psychologists, school boards and administrators for fostering total ignorance about the trades among middle and high school students.
“Somewhere over the years, our country has gotten the message that if you don’t have a college education you are not a worthwhile person,” Crigler says.
“I think the country has forgotten that it was built on the backs of small businesses and many of those businesses are plumbing and HVAC companies,” Crigler continues. “The services that these companies provide will always be needed, will provide a great living for our young people and they are becoming more and more technical. The country is so focused on ‘saving’ all our valuable resources, as we should be, and plumbing/HVAC companies are in the throes of that efficiency push.”
Clark says that not telling students anything about career and technical education is a failure of the American educational system. Students enrolling in Clark’s program are 30-35 years old and still struggling to find a career. Today’s students in middle and high school don’t know anything about turning a wrench. All of the technical classes have been taken out of the schools.
Clark has an idea that could be taken up by contractor associations lobbying in Washington — have the Department of Education require all schools to have at least one general education overview class on career and technical education. Clark has the feeling that ignorance about CTE is pervasive.
“If you just mandate an ‘experience’ in CTE, it would change everything,” he says.
Crigler says pretty much the same thing.
“They need to talk about the trades,” Crigler says of school systems. “They don’t talk about them at all because of the push to send them to college. I would be very surprised if there is ever any mention of apprenticeship or trades education at any of the middle or high schools in this country. The young people and their parents are not being given the information to be able to make that choice.”
Toward the end of my interview with Clark, he pointed out presciently that it’s the trades that rebuild after natural disasters. With east Texas and part of Louisiana recovering from Hurricane Harvey, his words have taken on even more meaning.