Why is there so little promotion of the skilled trades?

Forty years ago, when I was considering Vo-Tech, my parents made it perfectly clear that only potheads and hoodlums went to trade school and I was not allowed to go (because I was smarter than that). Wish I hadn’t been young and stupid.

I really hope that attitude is extinct.

Accounting is too low brow for Harvard at the moment, so probably at least 100 years.

Teacher here. Michigan.

Despite being a teacher, a lot of what I say is really just my observation from within the education field. I may be wrong on some details.

It seems that with Head Start and No-child-left-behind, we really had the Dept. of Education emphasizing that all children should be university-bound and that all children can learn equally and in the same areas.

Many high-schools in my are shut down their auto-repair, woodworking, metal shops, and other trade-like classes.

I have heard that a large high-school near me is now being allowed to offer “three paths” or something. We are a blue-collar are and that high-school is being allowed to offer something like “university bound”, “trade bound”, and some other kind of path for kids. They used to, but for many years they were not allowed to offer any other option than “every kid is being prepared for a major university”.

The High School in my district offers a college degree if you stay 5 years(Associates Degree), but I don’t think we have anything trade-oriented.

so do I.

I think one thing which didn’t help the situation is the average person’s narrow view of trades. I’d wager if you say the word “plumber” to any rando, all they think is “guy with 3” of exposed asscrack you call to unclog your toilet" when in reality the plumber/pipefitter trade is much more than that. That fire sprinkler system in your office? spec’ed and installed by plumbers. Got a shop with compressed air distribution? installed by plumbers. Water supply, drainage, steam piping, chillers, all of what pipes that around? Plumbers.


That’s sad. taking auto shop (and getting mechanic’s certification in multiple areas) was incredibly useful in my path to becoming a mech. eng. in the auto industry. Knowing how things work (and being able to see them work) is at least as important as being taught why things work. 'cos I’ve encountered my share of new jr. engineer hires right out of university who- despite having top GPAs and being incredibly book smart- have struggled mightily to understand how what they learned in class applies to real-world problems.

People do, but they are so wrong.

I had a friend and colleague in teaching who was also an electrician. He spent years as one before becoming a teacher. He made way more as an electrician and when he wanted to retire/leave-teaching, he got hired by the US government to go to Iraq and do electrical work there for over $100,000/year.

Every high school student in Ohio has a public school vocational program open to them, and in my experience, they’re promoted pretty well, and the students are competing to get in. Maybe the competition to get in is a sign that those programs should be expanded even further, but they’re certainly not being neglected.

When I was in high school, our district had a “career center”, where (IIRC starting in the 10th grade) students not interested in a college path could be bused every day to the center to train in various vocations. (The center is still around, but the programs are probably significantly different from when I was in school in the late 80s/early 90s.) Is this type of training availability pretty common for school districts, or not?

I forgot; I left out the part where my high school guidance counselor (as mentioned upthread) nixed Vo-Tech for me because my grades were too good to waste in V-T.

The trades are not promoted to students from middle-class families because one of the biggest markers of middle-class status, in our culture, is having a college degree and working at a job that requires such a degree. They most certainly ARE promoted to students from working-class families. Guidance counselors at schools in low-income areas routinely steer students toward the trades. Politicians talk all the time about how great trade schools and certificate programs at community colleges are; but only rarely do they send their own children to anything other than a selective four-year college.

In many cases, working-class parents, observing this, also encourage their children to attend a four-year college. This might or might not be the right choice for any given child, but it’s an entirely rational choice. College degrees, and occupations that require them, are generally regarded as higher-status than the various alternatives, even when those alternatives pay well. Maybe that isn’t how it should be, but it’s how it is, and most people want to maximize their children’s status. Having a college degree means, at the very least, that you can attend parties where everyone else has a degree and not feel out of place, and that kind of thing matters when you’re up for promotion to manager. It also means that you simply have more options in life; people who went to college CAN always go back and learn a trade, but they’re also able to apply for jobs that do require a degree – and a lot of jobs require one not because it’s absolutely necessary to do the job, but essentially as a filtering mechanism. To some extent those employers are filtering for real stuff, since it takes a certain baseline of intelligence to make it through college, as well as the ability to plan ahead and more or less stick to that plan; but they’re also engaging in social signaling: saying, essentially, “this job is for the type of people who go to college.”

Class privilege sucks, but it’s not going away, and it does have a significant impact on the course of people’s lives.

Also, consider all the people who profit off the current system where tons of people are being funneled into college, where they often get saddled with massive student loan debt that they can never discharge in bankruptcy.

If student loan debt could be discharged in bankruptcy, lenders would quickly start to decline to give student loans to people wanting to study stupid shit that is unlikely to lead to a well paying job and colleges would have to keep the costs of attending their schools within bounds or else they’d price themselves out of the market fast. Some people would no longer be able to afford to go to college, but if they were just going to wrack up debt for a degree that will never allow them to get a good paying job, that is probably for the best. If this is how it worked, I am certain we would hear a lot of bitching about how EVERY child deserves to go to college and we must make sure they do at all costs, though.

Yes, I always think it is funny how everyone is upset that women are under-represented among scientists or engineers, but nobody is upset that women are under-represented among plumbers, garbage collectors, miners, lumberjacks, etc.

I am a female who works in a STEM career myself, so I definitely think that women who have an interest in such areas should be encouraged to do it, but trying to force it on women when many women aren’t into this kind of shit just for the sake of feeling proud of how diverse we are is misguided and foolish.

teachers and guidance counselors all have degrees so they are likely biased towards sending kids to college.

You are not wrong, but consider the pressure on us. “Why can’t you hire more women?” and it’s not coming from men’s rights groups. So we are under pressure to encourage more women to study math.

The trades have become a haven for a lot of latino immigrants. Most of the construction crews in Portland are largely Hispanic and there is no lack of work for skilled trades with the current building boom. In fact, there are not enough people to fill the requirements. Contractors won’t even talk to you about small jobs, or if they do, the price is high. Getting specialties to the job requires months of planning because they are all booked way in advance. There are ads on local TV for tradesmen.

I learned my trade in the military, which also taught me leadership and construction management skills. A trades person doesn’t have to spend his entire life lugging a toolbox around, especially if he/she also has a degree. You can end up in management or project planning, which pays better. The OP might think about getting a degree as a Project Management Professional.

Many years ago, a local newspaper columnist addressed the fact that city garbagemen made more money than teachers, and wondered why. He got a LOT of feedback, and one of the letters in this pre-email era came from a married couple; she was a teacher, and he was a garbageman - who had a master’s degree. They came to this town for her job, and he was having difficulty finding a job in his field, so he took the garbageman job just because they needed the money, and was surprised to discover that he loved it! Of course, he knew he wouldn’t do it forever, but he was very athletic and loved being outdoors, he was performing a needed public service, and they said that there’s a lot more to know that people would think, in addition to it being very dangerous.

I’ll give it a try, if I may:

A plumber I am, working wrenches and copper
Repairing a toilet, installing a stopper
Sweating the pipes and snaking the drains
Acquiring mysterious odors and stains
But at the end of the day, once I’ve washed off the sewage
I park in my La-Z-Boy and pop open some brewage
I turn on the telly, tear into a snack
And I doze and I dream of my prominent crack


Same here and I think being academically gifted but not naturally handy/mechanically inclined sort of discouraged me from learning something I might have enjoyed and excelled at out of my comfort zone.

Even my favorite uncle, who ended up doing very well in a trade and retiring early with a very solid income and benefits for life, would always tell me he wished he used his GI Bill to go to college and get any “office job.” To be clear, his work was very hard on his body. He once half offered to give me a job as a basic laborer on his crew, but he didn’t want me to do it because I “was too smart” and needed to go do something else.

It was for me and exists as an option for my kids and local schools today. My son really wanted to do that, but unfortunately he had mental health issues that prevented him from doing well enough in 9th/10th grade in order to get there. We ended up being required to homeschool him for awhile and now he is back in regular school. I am hoping maybe he can just finish up and get his trade education at the local community college. In my experience/observation over the past 25 years it has been widely available with some school counties/districts even having a dedicated tech/trade high school.

Whether the trades are promoted probably depends on the locality as well as who they are being promoted to. I can tell you that in NYC, apprenticeship applications for the trades are often limited in number and only available in person during specified hours - a typical announcement might say that application are available in person from 7-:30 am on the third Wednesday of each month*, or that applications are available from 9-11 am on Mondays until 300 have been distributed. Some have even stranger conditions- I saw one that would had no limit to the number of applications but they would only be distributed for a half hour each month .There was no admittance to the building after that half hour window ended - although it’s not uncommon for lines to form more than a day before the applications are distributed. To get an application you had to show ID, and the application had to be postmarked within 5 days of when you received it. Then you would be scheduled for a four-hour orientation and only after that would you be scheduled for an interview. Mail it on the sixth day or don’t attend the orientation for any reason, and you will be removed from consideration.This is not the behavior of an apprenticeship program that is having trouble filling slots - all of these behaviors, from the need to pick up an application in person during a limited time period, to the 4 hour orientation , to the postmark, to the unions that only distribute 300 applications - are designed to limit the number of applications. Because if they don’t limit the applications they will have thousands to go through.

  • even those few that distribute applications online only distribute a certain number during restricted hours.

People keep saying the trades are the path to riches, but are they? It was my impression that most people didn’t do super well financially in the trades. Those who do make a lot of money either ran their own business, or they were in a union and worked a lot of overtime, or they went to a warzone to work. When I’d hear people say ‘people in trade XYZ make 90k a year’ I’d go on salary.com and find that even the top 10% of wage earners in that trade were making less than that.

Also the trades are harder on your body.

Also, on a long enough timeline, the trades will be automated too. It’ll take a few extra decades but bipedal robots are coming along and they will replace these jobs too.

I’m not sure what the answer is.

Personally I prefer an office job even if it is lower paying. I don’t need a ton of money to live comfortably and I’d prefer a job that isn’t going to cause chronic joint pain for the last 30 years of my life.