tables of high school students and parentsHigh school seniors participated in 700 job interviews in four hours to qualify for positions in the skilled trades at a signing day hosted by the Brazoria County (Texas) Petrochemical Council. 

Skilled Trades Catching on With High Schoolers as Career Option

Opportunities in HVAC, landscape, plumbing, power profession abound as retirements from industry increase

By Doug Carroll, Contributing Writer  

They are electricians, plumbers, HVAC technicians, carpenters, industrial engineering technicians, auto and diesel mechanics, and landscape designers. 

They are rarely out of work, and their salaries often exceed median U.S. worker pay by 30 percent or more. 

How, then, to explain a persistent labor shortage in skilled trades? 

“As a society, we haven’t done a good job over the last 10 or 20 years of promoting skilled trades,” says Jordan Sanderson, an associate vice president at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, where programs range from building trades and construction engineering to 3D modeling and design.  

The tide appears to be turning. Families disillusioned by the soaring cost of higher education are looking more favorably on skilled trades. So are high school students who want to get right to work at building a career. The reasons are plentiful: 

  • With college tuition costing tens of thousands of dollars per year, student debt can become an albatross, limiting where students live after graduation and when they can afford to buy a house or start a family. 
  • Trade careers and apprenticeships can offer financial stability, local employment if desired and entrepreneurship opportunities. 
  • Long-term job security in the trades is appealing. For every skilled trade worker starting a career, there are five workers retiring. 
  • Advocacy has increased at the high school level for a more inclusive approach to careers that puts skilled trades on par with college degrees. 

In some places, employers are lining up for prospects, offers in hand.  

Members of the Brazoria County (Texas) Petrochemical Council and their allied contract companies recently offered a record 155 full-time jobs in the skilled trades to more than 100 graduating high school seniors, with additional offers expected. This compared to 79 students who signed in 2023. 

A “signing day” was held in late April on the campus of Brazosport College in Clute, Texas. All of the signees had completed requirements and applications to be able to accept job offers. 

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Brazoria County is directly south of Houston. The jobs included?welding, pipefitting, millwright, ironworking, electrical, instrumentation, HVAC and carpentry. 

“There is work to do, with large and high-profile plant construction projects underway or in the planning stage,” says Aaron Ennis, who was involved in coordinating the signing day.  

“More contract companies are participating than before, as signing day is a preferred recruiting platform for contractors with work inside BCPC member company plants.”  

For the students, the chance to go to work right out of high school and earn a living without accruing staggering debt was irresistible. 

“So many of our graduates receive more than one offer,” Ennis says. “It is a testament to them for being so well-prepared and a signal to others that even though we set a record for job offers again in 2024, some of those (jobs) will remain unfilled. Many opportunities remain.” 

Doug Carroll is a freelance writer based in Chandler, Arizona.

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  posted on 5/17/2024   Article Use Policy

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