Aluminum Etc.: High school skilled trades centers no longer for difficult teens
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Aluminum Etc.: High school skilled trades centers no longer for difficult teens

Dec 21, 2023

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High school vocational skills centers–typically referred to as trade schools–offer current industry standard skills and career readiness exposure to their students. These skills and exposure have not gone unnoticed by employers, young adults, and their parents.

Thirty years ago, vocational high schools might have been known as, to put it nicely, the place you sent "difficult" or "special circumstance" teens for three hours of their school day. And warranted or not, they had a reputation.

However, today's trade schools are earning their reputation as a viable alternative to college–heck, even as the smarter choice–for students wanting to gain experience in a technical field that interests them. Career and technical education (CTE) programs have become more attractive to students because it allows them to learn a specific trade like welding and find out if it is a career they would enjoy.

While there is still a push from high school advisors and counselors for teens to attend college or university, students have discovered alternatives in technical fields after high school, often with the encouragement and support of their families. Students are now more aware than ever of the potential student loan debt that they can be saddled with. Some no longer want to risk taking out loans, graduating with debt and a possible job upon completion of college.

The benefits of such programs are plentiful. These CTE programs are free for students enrolled in participating school districts. Community businesses often work to help the programs succeed, such as by participating in a program's advisory committee.

Industry leaders can help shape curriculum geared toward current industry standard skills and employability behavior. Recognized industry experts end up teaching the next generation of skilled tradesmen and tradeswomen.

Upon high school and CTE program graduation, some students will be actively recruited for union apprenticeships. If they decide to go right to work, the student is already familiar with the equipment and job requirements, minimizing the training a new hire typically needs for a smoother transition into the workforce.

If college is the next stop for these students, oftentimes an articulation agreement between schools is in place so a student can earn college credit for their time at a vocational trade school. That means trade school students earning math, science, English, and sometimes arts credits have those credits count toward graduation requirements. This, in turn, can provide substantial tuition savings.

Overall, these programs are a win-win for the students, colleges, businesses, and unions.