4 Strategies To Improve Enrollment in Trade Schools and Career Education Programs
It’s time for a cultural shift in how we view enrollment in trade schools and career education programs.
When was the last time you thought, “wow, society could really use more philosophers”?
That’s likely never crossed your mind.
You have, however, probably felt the pain of the healthcare worker shortage at your latest doctor’s appointment.
You have probably felt the pain of the skilled trades shortage when your power goes out, and you’re told to wait 2-3 business days before an electrician can visit your home.
In Texas, after a winter storm rocked the state and caused unprecedented temperatures, people were left with burst pipes for days because there were simply not enough plumbers to go-around. It was so dire that the government waived restrictions on advanced plumbing apprentices so they could work in the field without oversight from a licensed professional.
Tradespeople and skilled workers are the backbone of the country. They keep us healthy, and they build and maintain the infrastructure we need to stay happy and safe—and they can make a good living.
Unfortunately, only 16% of high school students are likely to consider a skilled trade career.
Improving enrollment in trade schools and career education programs requires a team effort. Schools can streamline enrollment processes to get more students in the door and build comprehensive outreach programs. But schools need support through high-level advocacy and a stronger societal focus on the trades.
Here are four ways to improve enrollment in trade schools and vocational programs in the short- and long-term.
You can’t get more students enrolled in the trades if they don’t even know it’s an option. While many students have some idea that SOMEONE has to build their buildings, repair their cars, and pave their roads, they don’t understand the wealth of lucrative career opportunities within the trades or where to start.
Many students have said their high school presented them with three options: community college, a four-year degree, or the military—great options for some, but not all. Advocacy must start early and often to shift the conversation and educate students on opportunities in the trades and allied health fields.
Increased trade school attendance at college fairs and improved guidance counselor relations are great ways to educate students on opportunities in the trades, but it needs to start even earlier. Children see the world around them and assume they can be anything they want—like a truck driver or the dental hygienist who made them feel safe. Young girls can read books like The House That SHE Built, a story about an all-female construction team, and get inspired to pursue a career in the trades. They’re encouraged to be anything they want until the script gets flipped, and four-year college becomes the focal point.
Meeting students where they are will only go so far without top-level advocacy and investment. Unfortunately, according to the Associated General Contractors of America, the federal government only spends $1 on career training for every $6 it puts into college prep.
At the same time, the federal government passed a $550 billion infrastructure bill adding 1.5 million jobs a year for the next ten years. As we face a historic shortage of skilled trades workers, a $1 investment in career training will not close that gap or fill those new positions. Improving enrollment in trade schools takes advocacy and investment on a national level.
Fortunately, trade school advocacy groups are fighting the good fight and making up for the minimal investment in career training. Mike Rowe of Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs speaks on the importance of the trades by highlighting tradesmen and women—and has for years. His foundation, Mike Rowe WeWorks, takes the advocacy further and offers scholarships to students pursuing the trades. The Imagine America Foundation has advocated for career education since 1982, offering scholarships, instructor training, sector research, and more. On the policy side, Career Education Colleges and Universities and local advocacy groups push for federal investment—like advocating against for-profit exclusions from Pell Grant increases.
Improving enrollment in career education programs only goes so far if schools don’t have the tools they need to succeed.
Historically, trade and career education programs have been technically underserved, with software companies building tools for K-12, four-year colleges, and occasionally community colleges. Career education programs operate in a way that is fundamentally different from other higher education programs and need tools that are purpose-built for their unique needs. For example, unlike other higher education institutions that have 2-3 stars a year, career education schools could have 12 starts a year in just one program, plus six starts a year in another program, four starts a year in a third, etc.
On top of that, because of a lower barrier to entry, many career education programs may see students enroll, then fail to show up to class on day one. Career education programs end up piecing together solutions that aren’t built for them in an attempt to navigate these operational challenges.
Fortunately, that’s changing. New software solutions built for career education help admissions teams streamline student enrollment and better manage getting students from enrolled to active. One of the most significant benefits software offers admissions teams is automation. Automated student communications and alerts allow admissions teams to do more with less. Instead of spending so much time calling and texting students to get them to day one, admissions teams can spend more time with the students who need extra support and help them get in the door.
People who pursue a career in the trades expect to work long, hard hours. They don’t go into it expecting a cakewalk and an easy paycheck. However, no one wants to go into a job if they believe the working conditions will be unsafe or toxic. It is particularly a concern in the healthcare space where employees are leaving in droves after feeling unsupported by their workplaces during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many healthcare professionals “left medicine less because of COVID-19 itself and more because of how their institutions acted, according to an article by The Atlantic.
Trade and career education programs are constantly looking to attract the next generation of students and are, therefore, uniquely aware of what future generations are looking for in their workplaces. Gen Z has become known for quitting jobs quickly if they feel mistreated or if the job doesn’t align with their values.
Collaboration between schools and employers to build the best working environment possible is a win-win for everyone involved. Employers gain staff, schools gain students, and society gains the critical healthcare professionals we need.
Improving Enrollment At Trade Schools And Career Education Programs
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