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The need for skilled people willing to get their hands dirty working in trade occupations is growing across the country. But will there be enough craftspeople to meet that demand?
The Arizona Commerce Authority estimates that by 2030, the number of people employed in construction and manufacturing jobs in the state are expected to rise 30% and more than 20%, respectively.
The trend comes at a time when turnover is abnormally high and fewer young people are choosing trade careers, according to Associated Builders and Contractors and other industry groups.
“I’ve seen in the last decade a huge shift,” said Bruce Wilson, energy and engineering program director at Western Maricopa Education Center, or West-MEC, a public school district that provides trade education. “Right now, there is a huge opportunity for tradespeople going into the trades that are in demand, and nobody can get enough. Instead of having one or two openings, now companies have four or five openings constantly, so the opportunities for these people are just through the roof.”
Some Arizona schools and educational programs are working to teach the next generation of laborers the skills that contractors need and which could lead to satisfying careers that pay well.
TradeUp! seeks to engage Phoenix middle schoolers
TradeUp! is a collaboration of construction and labor professionals that teaches students at Madison Park Middle School in central Phoenix about trade labor professions to familiarize them with career options that may not be taught or encouraged in schools.
The six-month program invites trade professionals to come to the school, or bring students to their sites, to provide instruction and hands-on experience. The students learn about masonry, electrical, plumbing, HVAC, carpentry, drywall, roofing, and other trades.
TradeUp! is considering expanding to more schools in the near future, but for now, it’s offered only at Madison Park.
Anaya Jordan, 13, and her friends joined TradeUp! because they have some family in the industry and they thought it would be fun to do together.
“TradeUp! is cool because we get to learn a lot of new stuff about things like construction and plumbing,” Jordan said.
West-MEC offers trade education to high schoolers at their schools and on campus
Trade schools prepare students for jobs and help with getting certifications and apprenticeships.
West-MEC offers adult career and technical education programs ranging from construction and electrical to welding and automotive, but it also teaches high school students at their campuses in the north and West Valley. West-MEC also has partnerships with 14 public districts and two charter schools to bolster elective courses offered on certain campuses.
“We’re feeding into not only the power-generation industry, but all of the manufacturing industry, all the maintenance,” Wilson said. “They’re going to come out of here industry-ready entry-level operators and technicians for virtually any industry.”
Students can get started on trade education and certifications while simultaneously getting their high school diplomas. Most courses at West-MEC can be used for dual credit for high school and college.
Jamie Miller, electrical instructor at West-MEC, said electrical students leave with an OSHA 10 certification from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and their first year of apprenticeship completed. Miller said the program has a 100% success rate in matching students to their next apprenticeship, which is required for a career as an electrician.
West-MEC works directly with contractors and professionals in the business to ensure that students get hands-on learning experiences. Industry professionals serve on advisory boards within the school and work with instructors to ensure that up-to-date industry standards and procedures are being taught.
“The opportunities that (West-MEC) offers us is way beyond what other trade schools have, and the best part is being able to connect directly with industry superiors so I can see how they work and work with them,” said Jarrod Swayze, 17, a high school and West-MEC student.
According to West-MEC’s impact report for the 2021-22 school year, more than 5,000 students earned industry certifications, and the institution’s central program – which is made up of more than two dozen of their core subject areas – has a 100% passing rate.
“People need to be exposed to construction jobs and know that the craftsmen are smart,” Miller said. “These fields require math, reading, and precise measurements. …This field is here, and it needs to evolve and grow.”
Yavapai College Career and Technical Education (CTE)
Yavapai College Career and Technical Education (CTE) has been at the heart of Yavapai College for decades. Over the past several years, the college has expanded their programs and facilities in a big way. In the fall of 2007, Yavapai College opened the Career and Technical Education Center (CTEC) in Prescott, Arizona, CTEC is home to many of the CTE certificate programs offered by the college, especially those programs that require a significant amount of physical space.
Dr. Lisa B. Rhine, President of Yavapai College describes Yavapai College’s approach to CTE programs with what she calls the three “R’s.”
The first “R” is Responsiveness. And that’s going to the industry partners and identifying what the need is. These are local businesses, local industry clusters. The CTE program holds summits with industry clusters to find out what kind of employees they need, and then we endeavor to meet that need. They also try to understand who the employees are so that the college can place students. Because in the end, it’s about them getting a living wage job.
“These are advanced skilled jobs that lead to high wages and they’re in high demand,” said Dr. Lisa B. Rhine, President of Yavapai College. “It’s critical that we do what we can to meet that need.”
The next “R” is Relevant. Yavapai College is continuously looking at what they are teaching in the career and technical areas to ensure that it’s relevant to the field as it is constantly changing. The auto industry for example has transformed from down-and-dirty, hands-on machining to computer numerical controls. The college works to stay informed through the industry so the program curriculum is always relevant.
The third “R” is Real World. “We try to have equipment that is identical to what you’ll see on the floor in the industry,” stated Dr. Rhine. “We also try to make sure that we have individual attention and stations. So instead of having five students working on one trainer, one piece of equipment, we try to make it one-on-one as much as possible.” Through this method, students are getting the most real-world, hands-on experience that they can.
From Viticulture and Enology, Brewing, and Culinary arts programs to Aviation, Tech and Media programs, and Automotive, Manufacturing, and Fire Science, Yavapai College CTE has a vast offering of up-to-date trades occupation programs. TG Magazine Rise of the Trades issue shares the programs available through Yavapai College CTE.
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