Why Opinions on Trade Schools Need to Trade-Up

The main hurdles to development and expansion faced by career and technical education (CTE) programs are funding and public perception according to a new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).

To rise above this, community colleges are trying to obtain more federal grants, like the US Department of Defense’s Manufacturing Engineering Education Program, specifically designed to aid and guide pathways to the industry.

There have also been marketing efforts encouraging more women, and other underrepresented populations, to pursue a career in CTE.

Multiple articles authored by Matthew Dembicki for Community College Daily point out that negative perceptions about CTE-related jobs remain a problem – this was also addressed at a United States House of Representatives hearing.

Why should CTE and skilled trade careers be treated as a fallback for not going to a prestigious four-year university? What’s missing aside from an institution’s prestigious reputation and title?

What does that matter when you’re making six figures a year, nearly triple compared to some of your college-educated peers?

More and more high schools are developing and expanding their own workforce development programs. Many districts are even sending kids to a separate specialized campus, like

In the Midwest, the auto industry and manufacturing was and is the backbone of the economy. A majority of Gen X and Baby Boomers worked for Jeep and Ford. However, many of those plants have deserted the Midwest in favor of lower-cost international labor.

Yet, this does not sway the ideals of generations past. Families still take pride in the hard days of work put in at factories where the nostalgia of a successful single-income household still holds a flame.

Just because those factories have been abandoned, the grit of American families across the country, especially ones that cannot afford prestigious four-year educations, has not been lost.

One line in Dembicki’s article reads, in part: “many parents and school counselors are unaware that those career paths lead to well-paying, in-demand jobs.”

If that’s true, shouldn’t high school counselors be doing a better job at outlining this for them?

At the very least, marketers must aim messaging directly at high schoolers as their target primary audience so counselors can distribute information to students anxious about their future.

Additionally, presentations from local manufacturing sites and companies needing skilled workers can be used to reach Gen-Z.

When Dembicki’s article talks about what’s stopping older adults from continuing their education, he highlights the additional resources needed to pursue those goals, such as childcare, counseling, and career support.

Transportation and broadband access can also be added to that list.

“For example, a college can issue laptop computers to students for remote learning, but that doesn’t mean they have sufficient broadband at home to access the course.” – Dembicki

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree there’s a lack of investment in CTE. Federal funding has not kept pace with the demand for our nation’s needs.

If K-12 students and families learn more about well-paying jobs in the field and are guided towards accessible training opportunities, they would know these programs costs a fraction of a four-year degree where students could earn less post-grad depending on their field of study.

Now is a good time for marketers to emphasize this message while people are already living through a tough economy and are trying to avoid taking on (more) college debt.

This, in turn, would boost the economy as companies are willing to increase their workforce with qualified workers. Many of those companies are offering competitive wages for service technicians.

To be qualified, most service techs complete a two-year technical college degree program before getting a full-time job.

Colleges need to start allocating some of their marketing budgets and focus on the long game.

Perceptions aren’t going to change overnight but educating parents now about the potential for their children to have other, nontraditional opportunities throughout their lifetime and showcasing those opportunities directly to younger generations through community educational partnerships and events is critical.

There’s a limited pool of people willing to change their minds in the next six months, but the potential to change the narrative that’s spoken 10 years from now is unlimited.

What’s more, marketers need to understand how critical video storytelling is to CTE promotion. Workforce training partners must do a better job of visualizing what these careers are and why they’re a great choice, promoting success stories directly on channels where kids and their parents are watching together. TikTok is severely underutilized in this area. It has become a channel where kids and parents engage TOGETHER and could be a great tool to expose children to future careers they may have never considered.

Finally, events are making a comeback, and STEM exploration and career days on a broad scale can be highly effective.

Getting students into hands-on learning programs early on could be the answer. The Creators Wanted program is promoting just that with mutual partnerships and manufacturing companies looking for workers to back it up, touring the country to promote their message with live, in-person engagement.

“Manufacturers in the United States need to fill 4 million jobs by 2030 according to a workforce study by the Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte. More than half of those jobs could be left unfilled because of two issues: a skills gap and misperceptions about modern manufacturing.” –Creator’s Wanted

The first step in persuading students and parents to consider careers in CTE and skilled trades is to make sure the information is accessible to them.

The United States’ workforce depends on it.

About the Author

Rachel Spencer

Rachel’s expertise in strategic planning, qualitative research, brand messaging, public relations, and crisis communications has proven integral to AccessU for over 16 years. She began her career at a health and government-focused PR agency in Washington, DC, where she mastered the art of media relations. She later became the primary...

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