2. Thar’s gold in them thar pipes (or wires or trusses or commercial vehicles).
Okay, maybe not gold, but there is good money to be made. I have a friend who is a highly educated college professor. He makes a comfortable living, and of course he loves his work, but recently as we discussed his own children’s future career plans, it was my friend who raised the idea of pursuing a trade. He told me that every time he calls his plumber, the plumber answers his phone from his yacht.
Tradespeople are free to roam the country or to stay put in their own hometowns. Of course certification requirements for most trades vary from state to state, but there isn’t a state in the union that doesn’t need plumbers or electricians or masons or most other skilled professionals. Having a marketable skill means having the freedom to live almost anywhere.
4. The trades are noble professions.
There is no single cause for the decline in CTE training in recent decades. However, without a doubt one factor has been an over-emphasis on four year degrees. College seems to be touted as the destiny of every high school student, and high schools often emphasize academics over skill.
For this reason, students who are less academically inclined are often placed in CTE classes whether they have an interest in those classes or not. Worse is that many high school trade classes have been over-intellectualized so that even in traditional hands-on courses, there is more book work than in previous years.
The message has been all too clear: “Academics are more valuable than physical or skilled work.” Fortunately there has been an effort to change that message in recent years and to restore dignity to trade education and tradespeople. Still, that message is going to have to be reinforced in classrooms and at home so that all students, not only those pursing a trade, will recognize the beauty and value of possessing a skill, of being able to make something with one’s own hands, and of offering a service that makes other people’s lives not only better, but in many cases, possible.
In the same way that college is not for everyone, neither are the skilled professions. To pursue a trade, students must posses the desire, the talent, and the determination to master their chosen skills. Yet, what a shame it is if some never do because they lack the same encouragement to pursue their dreams that university-bound students get to pursue theirs.
The demand for most trades is strong and getting stronger. The U.S. Department of Labor forecasts healthy growth in the neighborhood of 8 to 9 percent over the next decade. Jobs associated with building and rebuilding roads, bridges, water, and the power grid are expected to grow by double-digit percentages—faster than the overall economy. Jobs for plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters are projected to grow 16 percent during this same time period. And projected employment growth across all occupations is 7.4 percent. Construction, the mechanical trades, and industrial occupations like welding are in-demand trades that could mean either a stable career or a launching pad. You might start out swinging a hammer but it could lead to project management, environmental analysis, sales, education, or engineering. I met a bunch of these people in the course of writing this article. And, by the way, that’s how I found my way here. This story is going to tell you how you can do it, too. (Check out our companion article, The State of American Trade Schools, for more info.)
“The trades are not merely an alternative to college. A trade is equal to college.”
The postwar era in America was one of unparalleled white-collar growth. Thus both public and private high schools were deemed most successful if they graduated students to college. But college costs have risen sharply and continue to rise. Forbes concluded a year ago that college tuition is rising nearly eight times faster than wages. A four-year degree is still deemed valuable, but you’ve got to be able to afford it with a minimum of debt and it has to be the basis of a well-paying job when you exit. If not, you’re stuck.
Given a decades-old institutional bias toward college, it’s not surprising that trades teachers feel like they’re constantly playing second fiddle. “Our biggest challenge today is that guidance counselors push every student into college,” says Jim Reid, director of apprenticeships for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM). Tim Baber, professor of manufacturing technology at College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, California, echoes that. Speaking about his high-school-age son, he says, “All he hears is college, college, college.” Oddly enough, the trades bear some responsibility. As the construction industry waxed and waned over the years, one of the places it looked to cut costs was training. This led to a shortage of helpers and apprentices. “Journeymen did everything themselves. That worked for a while, but you see where that got us,” says William Fuller, craft development manager for the Houston-area Construction and Maintenance Education Foundation, the educational affiliate of the trade association Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC). Fuller should know. He was recently named Craft Instructor of the Year, no small achievement for a guy who started out at 13 digging ditches with a shovel. He went on to become a heavy-equipment operator, carpenter, boilermaker, rigger, and crane operator.
ABC contractors are also on the front lines of getting students prepared as early as possible, while they’re still in high school. Trained high school graduates are deemed “trade ready” when they can read a set of plans, set up a job, and work with journeymen. They may stay with their trades training to pursue journeyman status, exit to college, or pursue both. A blended profession consisting of college and trades education that’s achieved incrementally, without college debt, is appealing to many and a smart way to hedge your bets. “The trades are a way to earn and learn,” IAM’s Reid says. “They’re a way to still have college available to you. It’s a way to secure your future.” He started out as an auto-body mechanic, became a machinist, and went on to get two bachelor’s degrees, one in labor studies and another in education.
Another example of the trades-college track is our longtime trades advisor, Pat Porzio, a second-generation tradesman with three trade licenses (electrical contractor, master plumber, and master HVAC); he also has a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering. Today he’s HVAC manager for Russo Bros. & Co., a plumbing and HVAC company in East Hanover, New Jersey.
Finally, consider Dan Maurer, a journeyman pipefitter with United Association Local 190, a plumber and pipe trades union in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He’s one class away from an associate degree in applied science. He left general construction and carpentry to pursue the mechanical trades and today does welding, plumbing, and medical gas piping for Boone & Darr, a mechanical contractor in Ann Arbor. A rock-solid middle-class breadwinner, Maurer is the sole support for his stay-at-home wife and two young daughters, no small feat today for any young family.
A future in the trades begins even before you graduate high school, he says: “Pay attention while you’re in public school to the education that’s right in front of you. It’s free. It’s a gift. When you go on from there to pursue a trade, remember that whatever you put into it is what you get out of it.”
I’ll leave the final words of advice and encouragement to Greg Sizemore, ABC’s vice president of environment, health, safety, and workforce development. His advice is directed as much at the parents as the students. “Parents shouldn’t push kids who are performing poorly in the classroom toward a future in construction, assuming that the student won’t need math or communication skills. We want not only the best student, we want the right student.”
“The trades,” said Sizemore, “are not merely an alternative to college. A trade is equal to college. If you’re a Ph.D. and you’re at home on a Saturday night in July and your air conditioner quits, the smartest person around is somebody who can fix that air conditioner. The trades are one of the most noble career choices that any individual can make. Banks would not be built. Buildings to house machines, hospitals, and any other structure would not be built without the trades. It’s a career choice, not just a job.”
Have you thought about what you want to be doing in five years’ time? Are you clear about what your main objective at work is at the moment? Do you know what you want to have achieved by the end of today?
If you want to succeed, you need to set goals. Without goals you lack focus and direction. Goal setting not only allows you to take control of your life’s direction; it also provides you a benchmark for determining whether you are actually succeeding. Think about it: having a million dollars in the bank is only proof of success if one of your goals is to amass riches. If your goal is to practice acts of charity, then keeping the money for yourself is suddenly contrary to how you would define success.
To accomplish your goals, however, you need to know how to set them. You can’t simply say, “I want” and expect it to happen. Goal setting is a process that starts with careful consideration of what you want to achieve, and ends with a lot of hard work to actually do it. In between, there are some very well-defined steps that transcend the specifics of each goal. Knowing these steps will allow you to formulate goals that you can accomplish.
Here are our five golden rules of goal setting, presented in an article, a video and an infographic.
The Five Golden Rules
1. Set Goals That Motivate You
When you set goals for yourself, it is important that they motivate you: this means making sure that they are important to you, and that there is value in achieving them. If you have little interest in the outcome, or they are irrelevant given the larger picture, then the chances of you putting in the work to make them happen are slim. Motivation is key to achieving goals.
Set goals that relate to the high priorities in your life. Without this type of focus, you can end up with far too many goals, leaving you too little time to devote to each one. Goal achievement requires commitment, so to maximize the likelihood of success, you need to feel a sense of urgency and have an “I must do this” attitude. When you don’t have this, you risk putting off what you need to do to make the goal a reality. This in turn leaves you feeling disappointed and frustrated with yourself, both of which are de-motivating. And you can end up in a very destructive “I can’t do anything or be successful at anything” frame of mind.
already. But do you always apply the rule? The simple fact is that for goals to be powerful, they should be designed to be SMART. There are many variations of what SMART stands for, but the essence is this – goals should be:
Set Specific Goals
Your goal must be clear and well defined. Vague or generalized goals are unhelpful because they don’t provide sufficient direction. Remember, you need goals to show you the way. Make it as easy as you can to get where you want to go by defining precisely where you want to end up.
Set Measurable Goals
Include precise amounts, dates, and so on in your goals so you can measure your degree of success. If your goal is simply defined as “To reduce expenses” how will you know when you have been successful? In one month’s time if you have a 1 percent reduction or in two years’ time when you have a 10 percent reduction? Without a way to measure your success you miss out on the celebration that comes with knowing you have actually achieved something.
Set Attainable Goals
Make sure that it’s possible to achieve the goals you set. If you set a goal that you have no hope of achieving, you will only demoralize yourself and erode your confidence.
However, resist the urge to set goals that are too easy. Accomplishing a goal that you didn’t have to work hard for can be anticlimactic at best, and can also make you fear setting future goals that carry a risk of non-achievement. By setting realistic yet challenging goals, you hit the balance you need. These are the types of goals that require you to “raise the bar” and they bring the greatest personal satisfaction.
Set Relevant Goals
Goals should be relevant to the direction you want your life and career to take. By keeping goals aligned with this, you’ll develop the focus you need to get ahead and do what you want. Set widely scattered and inconsistent goals, and you’ll fritter your time – and your life – away.
Set Time-Bound Goals
Your goals must have a deadline. Again, this means that you know when you can celebrate success. When you are working on a deadline, your sense of urgency increases and achievement will come that much quicker.
3. Set Goals in Writing
The physical act of writing down a goal makes it real and tangible. You have no excuse for forgetting about it. As you write, use the word “will” instead of “would like to” or “might.” For example, “I will reduce my operating expenses by 10 percent this year,” not “I would like to reduce my operating expenses by 10 percent this year.” The first goal statement has power and you can “see” yourself reducing expenses, the second lacks passion and gives you an excuse if you get sidetracked.
Post your goals in visible places to remind yourself every day of what it is you intend to do. Put them on your walls, desk, computer monitor, bathroom mirror or refrigerator as a constant reminder.
4. Make an Action Plan
This step is often missed in the process of goal setting. You get so focused on the outcome that you forget to plan all of the steps that are needed along the way. By writing out the individual steps, and then crossing each one off as you complete it, you’ll realize that you are making progress towards your ultimate goal. This is especially important if your goal is big and demanding, or long-term. Read our article on Action Plans for more on how to do this.
5. Stick With It!
Remember, goal setting is an ongoing activity, not just a means to an end. Build in reminders to keep yourself on track, and make regular time-slots available to review your goals. Your end destination may remain quite similar over the long term, but the action plan you set for yourself along the way can change significantly. Make sure the relevance, value, and necessity remain high.
Walmart has a new target for talent in a tight labor market: high school students.
The nation’s largest private employer, with a U.S. workforce of 1.5 million, announced plans Tuesday to expand a college-education perk to high schoolers, hoping to get them off to universities to continue their education, and relieve them of staggering loan debt.
Here’s what high school students will now have access to, according to Walmart:
Jobs within Walmart with scheduling options for flexibility;
Free ACT and SAT prep courses;
Up to seven hours of free college credit through Walmart’s “Live Better U’s College Start” program; and
A debt-free college degree through “Live Better U” (upon completing high school) in three fields from six nonprofit universities.
Walmart said fewer than 25,000 of its workers today are high school students, reflecting a “very small percentage” of its workforce. That’s especially small when compared with other companies in the industry, because it can be often hard to work around students’ busy class schedules, Julie Murphy, executive vice president of Walmart’s U.S. people division, said during a call with members of the media.
But, “we see this as a pipeline we can leverage that we currently aren’t leveraging today,” she said.
The announcement comes a year after Walmart started subsidizing the cost of higher education for its employees who have yet to earn college degrees, creating “Live Better U.” It’s been doing this through a partnership with Guild Education — a tuition reimbursement and education platform that helps large employers extend education benefits, including tuition reimbursement, to workers. Walmart workers accepted into this program only have to contribute $1 per day, for 365 days each year, toward their education, so long as they’re enrolled. Walmart covers the rest.
Tuesday’s announcement expands the program to as many as 5,000 additional workers each year, who will be eligible for $1,500 awards.
Walmart is also adding three schools to the program: Southern New Hampshire University, Purdue University Global and Wilmington University, joining the University of Florida, Brandman University and Bellevue University.
It’s also adding 14 technology degrees and certificates for its workers to choose, including computer science, cybersecurity, computing technology and a certificate for Java programming. When this program launched in 2018, workers had to opt for an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in business or supply chain management.
The goal is for employees to acquire the skills Walmart will need in the future, according to Drew Holler, senior vice president of associate experience for Walmart in the U.S. He said it’s also helping with retention and engagement with customers in stores, as enrolled employees are more committed to their work.
Walmart a year ago had said it expected as many as 68,000 employees could sign up for the new college program over the course of four to five years. Only about 7,500 people have enrolled to date.
“We have gone deliberately slow” with sign-ups to the program, to start, Murphy said. “We expect this to ramp. [And] we think the [new] degrees we are offering will be instrumental … as we think about the future.”
Walmart isn’t the only employer fighting to attract and retain top talent, with U.S. unemployment hovering near record lows.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, in his annual letter to shareholders in April, issued a challenge to other retailers, not naming which ones specifically, to match its pay and benefits. Walmart’s minimum wage of $11 an hour, set in January 2018, is still below Amazon’s, which was hiked to $15 in November. “Do it! Better yet, go to $16,” Bezos said.
Walmart has said its average, hourly compensation including benefits comes out to be more than $17.50.
Also encouraging Walmart to do better, 2020 Democratic presidential candidate and Sen. Bernie Sanders is set to attend Walmart’s shareholders meeting on Wednesday, where he’s expected to pressure the company to raise wages and propose that hourly workers get a spot on Walmart’s board. He’s been targeting the world’s biggest retailer for years, going as far as introducing a bill in 2018 aimed to push the company to hike pay.
“I’m going to Bentonville, Arkansas, to tell the Walton family of Walmart, the wealthiest family in America: Get off welfare. Pay your workers a living wage!” Sanders tweeted last week.
Now in its 40th season, the PBS home-improvement show This Old House feels like the TV equivalent of New England clam chowder: hearty, wholesome, and old-school. The cast—headed up by the master carpenter Norm Abram and rounded out by the contractor Tom Silva, gardener Roger Cook, plumber Richard Trethewey, and host Kevin O’Connor—returns autumn after autumn, as consistently as uncles you might see every year at Thanksgiving dinner. The look and feel of the series hasn’t changed much since its debut in February 1979. Each episode still zeroes in on a few elements of home construction, such as installing a skylight or shoring up a foundation. In one of the rare, subtle signs that four decades have passed, Silva appears to be wearing an Apple Watch in a recent episode.
Every program on HGTV arguably owes its existence to This Old House, which first turned home renovation and real estate into television. Without it, viewers might never have gotten Property Brothers, or Fixer Upper, or probably even House Hunters International. All the same, it can be difficult to locate the similarities between This Old House and its descendants. These newer programs often unfold like reality TV–esque hero’s journeys, with the hosts figuring as creative geniuses who marshal old or otherwise sad houses through a rapid-fire rehabilitation and beautification process. This Old House, meanwhile, has no single star and little concern for dramatic narrative arcs. Its chief goal is, as it always has been, to put skilled tradespeople and the work they do in front of the camera.
On This Old House, workers solve technical problems that seldom merit a mention on programs of the HGTV variety. In a recent episode, the crew is briefly flummoxed over where to install electrical outlets in a modern, minimalist kitchen that has prioritized windows over usable wall space. The building code mandates that outlets should be placed every few feet, but O’Connor clarifies the problem for the audience, asking, “Where do you put an outlet when there’s no wall?” The supervising electrician, Heath Eastman, devises an ingenious solution: He conceals the outlets in receptacles that can be pressed down into the countertop. The homeowner, Sunil, isn’t enthused about the prospect of disrupting the clean lines of the counter with pop-ups, but he takes a sensible view of the matter. “I personally wouldn’t want anything on the surface, but code is code and we have to have it,” he says.
The scene is quintessential This Old House. What could’ve been framed as a melodramatic battle of the wills is instead presented as a teachable moment between the tradesman and the homeowner. The show is fairly unusual among home-renovation programs in allowing workers like Eastman to speak at length and explain their craft to a national audience. This Old House keeps them at the forefront of the action, perhaps realizing that, without them, there’d be no action at all.
When This Old House launched, it didn’t look like the progenitor of a new genre of TV. That first, 13-episode season from 1979 initially seemed to be a Boston-area curiosity, accessible only to local residents via WGBH. But it struck a chord with viewers, almost 250,000 of whom tuned in every week to watch the titular house—a Victorian in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood—undergo its gradual metamorphosis. The surge of interest allowed This Old House to vault into the primary PBS lineup a year later, where it has remained ever since.
Since the 1980s, the show has developed into a multiplatform media powerhouse. In addition to the flagship program, viewers can tune in to the spin-off TV show Ask This Old House, in which the cast helps homeowners with smaller-scale repairs and upgrades. Fans can also read This Old House magazine or follow the brand on Twitter, where the account cheerfully dispenses home-maintenance advice to 198,000 followers.
This Old House, of course, competes for eyeballs with a slate of newer shows hosted by highly telegenic and charismatic individuals. Audiences marvel at the gracious collectedness of Fixer Upper’s Joanna Gaines (who alone has 1.4 million Twitter followers), and wonder how she puts up with her goofy husband, Chip, as she floats around imposing a neutral-hued elegance on recalcitrant domestic interiors. Drew and Jonathan Scott hold together each episode of their various Property Brothers shows with their banter, fraternal competition, and identical good looks. It’s not for nothing that the Gaineses and the Scotts regularly feature on the covers of tabloids. These stars are their shows, because they seemingly carry the entire weight of the production on their shoulders.
All the celebrity attached to home-improvement show hosts means that little attention is paid to the skilled tradespeople who improve the homes in question. When these workers do appear on camera, it’s usually in montages. Their movements are often sped up for the sake of time, so they scuttle around like chipmunks, hammering, carrying, plastering, painting. Their work, whether intentionally or not, is positioned as secondary to the dynamism of the main stars.
We see this clearly on HGTV’s new show Windy City Rehab, which recently ended its first season. The title suggests that the show is about renovating homes in Chicago, but it’s really about Alison Victoria, the star, who poses with a sledgehammer in promotional shots. Victoria is a professional home flipper, and it’s hard not to admire her style. She evaluates properties with a caustic realism that brings to mind Simon Cowell: “The windows are a mess, the awning is awful, the glass block is disgusting.” As a home flipper, Victoria chiefly aims to turn the largest profit possible from selling her creations, and we watch her battle against time, weather, and occasional bureaucratic red tape to accomplish it.
Victoria has an edge to her, which is likely a requirement for a woman trying to succeed in a field that is still dominated by men. “It’s not for the weak,” she says of her chosen profession in a March episode. Understandably, she strives to control as many aspects of the project as possible. “If you want something done right, you do it yourself,” she remarks, after a set of kitchen cabinets turns out too short due to a measuring error on the part of a contractor. When she sources vintage pieces at a furniture restorer’s workshop, the exchange largely consists of her telling the craftsman what she wants. Workers only fleetingly appear in the usual construction montages. This overlooking of tradespeople is certainly not unique to Victoria’s show—it’s only the latest manifestation of a pattern that has come to define home-renovation TV as a whole.
If skilled workers are largely written out of television shows that rely on their expertise to function, it’s not surprising that fewer young people than ever are pursuing careers in trade. There is a genuine shortage of skilled labor in the United States, caused by, according to The Washington Post, lingering effects of the Great Recession, the retirement of veteran laborers, and “the fact that many high-school graduates are not interested in blue-collar jobs.” This issue is undoubtedly a complex one, but media representations of trade might bear at least some scrutiny. Who wants to be reduced to the backdrop while the true drama takes place in the foreground?
This Old House stands apart from its competition by keeping its workers in the spotlight—young apprentices included. The 16th episode of Season 40, titled “Apprentice Sill School,” features the great Norm Abram instructing two apprentices, Carly and Erick, in how to install a “sill,” or layer of wood, on the foundation of a home. This hidden piece keeps our walls from falling in on us—it supports a building’s frame and floor joists. As viewers watch, they see Carly and Erick learning exactly how a house comes together. Their movements are a little awkward as they use hammers to smooth the edges of the foundation before the sills can be installed. Their work is slow and hesitant. The only noticeable sounds in these scenes are Abram’s voice and the clink of metal on concrete.
It’s no accident that This Old House devotes so much time to apprentices like Carly and Erick. They’re on-screen as part of the show’s “Generation Next” initiative—a broad program aimed at recruiting more people to the trades. In launching this initiative, the show is attempting to counter the U.S. labor shortage by making carpentry and other hands-on professions seem more accessible to young men and women alike. Generation Next has been putting apprentices on the show since 2017, providing them with training and national-television exposure. “There’s every reason to go into the building trades today,” Tom Silva has said. “If you are good, you will absolutely have work.” He’s not exaggerating: The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts enticing job prospects for workers in a variety of fields, including plumbers, glaziers, and masons.
Generation Next is a natural offshoot of what was already present in the structure and priorities of This Old House from the beginning, especially in the way that it provides a voice and visibility to skilled tradesmen and women. As the series moves into its fifth decade, its investment in younger workers signifies a promising new direction: a way for this admittedly old show to reach the audience that most needs to absorb its message.
ANNA, Ohio — In early May, in a classroom at Anna High School, five seniors focused on controlling a canary yellow robotic arm. They took turns tapping code into a pendant connected to the arm.
Their assignment was to make the arm grab and move a bunch of AA batteries, one by one, from one box to another. Along the way, the arm was supposed to circle each battery inside an empty Folgers coffee canister, then return it to its original position without knocking any over.
Something in their code was off, though, and a few of the batteries wobbled and fell. The students, who were learning about industrial robots and other technologies used in advanced manufacturing, took the hiccup in stride, examining lines of code for errors and cracking jokes. Their teacher, K. C. Needles, offered encouragement, but didn’t tell them how to fix their mistake.
One of the students, Jarred Seigle, liked how their task was similar to what he’d seen robots do on assembly lines in Honda’s engine plant a few miles outside the center of the village. “This is something we could all be doing in a few years if we’re working in a factory,” said Jarred, 18, who is planning to major in mechanical engineering at the University of Toledo. “We might be programming robots.”
The school, in a tightknit farming village about 50 miles north of Dayton, is among secondary schools around the world that offer robotics classes and related disciplines to prepare students for industries being transformed by automation.
The schools are adapting educational materials developed by manufacturers and building special labs. The idea is to give the students a foundation in how industrial technology works and, in some cases, expose them to manufacturing careers.
Robots could eliminate 75 million jobs globally by 2022 and create 133 million others, according to a World Economic Forum report released last year. Global manufacturers could also face a potential shortage of 7.9 million workers by 2030, warns a study released last year by the consulting firm Korn Ferry.
Because of negative perceptions about factory work, making it appealing is a global challenge, said Rob Luce, vice president of the SME Education Foundation, the philanthropic training arm of the manufacturing trade group SME. The foundation helped start the Anna program and nearly 50 others like it in American high schools.
“The nation that figures it out first is going to be in the front position to capitalize,” Mr. Luce added.
Manufacturers’ need for people who can operate, troubleshoot, maintain and install robotics and automation technology “is going to grow in the future,” said Scot McLemore, manager of talent acquisition at Honda North America. Automation equipment is increasingly being adopted by sectors outside of auto manufacturing, which has used robots for decades.
Worldwide industrial robot sales increased to 381,000 in 2017 from 221,000 units in 2014, according to the International Federation of Robotics in Frankfurt. The trade group estimated that sales could reach 484,000 by year-end and 553,000 next year.
The factory perception problem is thorny, Mr. McLemore said. Unless parents have a personal connection to someone working in manufacturing, “they either have no idea what happens or they have a misperception that it’s dark, dirty and dangerous, which is definitely not the case,” he said.
Amelie Haves, 14, has been enjoying operating the arm in her robotics course at Hans-Dietrich-Genscher-Schule, her middle school near Bonn, Germany. “It looks difficult, but it isn’t that difficult to program a robot,” she said.
Amelie prefers to learn by looking and touching instead of by reading. “Our future is going to be involved with all of this technology,” she said. “All the big companies that produce anything now have robots.”
The school’s goal is for participants to gain a foundation in programming and operating industrial robots. Students can earn a certificate that recognizes their proficiency in operating a robotic arm from the Japanese manufacturer Yaskawa — the same certificate as adults.
Amelie’s mother, Sheona Hamilton-Grant, pushed her daughter to enroll in the two-year course. Ms. Hamilton-Grant likes how closely Yaskawa is involved and how girls and boys gain confidence applying robotics in practical ways.
“Rather than run away from something we’re frightened of, we need to learn about it, from industrial applications to ethics,” she said. “Knowledge is power, isn’t it?”
Christian Zimbelmann and Hans Werner Meurer, Amelie’s teachers, structure the course around practical problems, such as moving toy bricks from one place to another by programming the arm.
“We can’t let students go out into the work force without the foundation to handle complex automated systems,” Mr. Zimbelmann said.
The course is an idea that Ulla Engelmann, head of the unit for advanced technologies, clusters and social economy at the European Commission in Brussels, said could be replicated across Europe. She saw it in action when Yaskawa invited teachers and students to participate in a major industrial technology trade fair in Hanover, Germany, in April.
“There are so many fear factors when you talk about robotics,” Ms. Engelmann said. This program diminishes those fears and shows robots can make your “future work life easier.”
In Mexico, government education officials seem increasingly willing to have public schools teach robotics, said Roberto Saint Martin, a founder and the chief executive of RobotiX, a robotics education business, which started in 2006 in Mexico City. The company said it had implemented its programs in more than 1,400 schools and learning centers in Mexico.
RobotiX sends its instructors to schools and also trains teachers — more than 1,600 have gone through its training. The traction is driven in large part by parents, said David Romero, a professor at Tecnólogico de Monterrey, the elite Mexican university where Mr. Saint Martin helped hatch the idea for RobotiX.
“Parents get that if their kid wants employment in the future, she or he should be able to design, program, and repair a robot,” Mr. Romero said.
Businesses aren’t going to stop automating, said Miae Lee, a teacher at Seoul Robotics High School, a competitive technical school with about 460 students. “We have to adapt ourselves,” she said. “I tell my students, ‘If you learn about the robots, you can get a good job after graduation.’”
Because the school has dormitories for about one-third of its students, some tinker with equipment until 10 at night. For their final project before they graduate, students work in small groups to build their own robots.
The goal is to convert the students into robotics experts, said Ms. Lee, who teaches upper grades. “They have to choose: Do you want to lose your job to a robot or do you want to be hired to make or control it?”
Anna installed its robotic arm in 2018, a few years after executives from SME Education Foundation and Honda approached the school about developing a program together.
Rather than relegate the classes to a vocational career center, its classes with the arm are taught in the main school building, which is undergoing an $18 million renovation that will include an area for robotics.
The school isn’t trying to mint “the perfect employee for Honda,” said Joel Staudter, the principal who, along with Mr. Needles became a certified instructor a few years ago by taking a course offered by Fanuc, the Japanese robot maker. “We’re trying to give them foundational knowledge.”
Jarred said he planned to return to Anna after he graduated from college. He imagined taking a job at one of the community’s several dozen manufacturers, such as Precision Strip, a toll metal processing company, or at Honda’s engine plant.
One of Jarred’s teammates, Isaac Dodds, 18, who is also planning to attend the University of Toledo, doesn’t expect to work in manufacturing. He wants to become a teacher. He took the class with Jarred because he saw gaining skills in automation as job security if teaching doesn’t work out.
“I’ll have robotics in my back pocket if I ever need it,” Isaac said. “Soon every job is going to involve robotics in some way or another.”
Instead of going to college to get a job, students will increasingly be going to a job to get a collegedegree.
What does this mean exactly? Today, the #1 reason why Americans value and pursue higher education is “to get a good job.” The path has always been assumed as linear: first, go to college and then, get a good job. But what if there was a path to get a good job first – a job that comes with a college degree? In the near future, a substantial number of students (including many of the most talented) will go straight to work for employers that offer a good job along with a college degree and ultimately a path to a great career.
This shift will go down as the biggest disruption in higher education whereby colleges and universities will be disintermediated by employers and job seekers going direct. Higher education won’t be eliminated from the model; degrees and other credentials will remain valuable and desired, but for a growing number of young people they’ll be part of getting a job as opposed to college as its own discrete experience. This is already happening in the case of working adults and employers that offer college education as a benefit. But it will soon be true among traditional age students. Based on a Kaplan University Partners-QuestResearch study I led and which was released today, I predict as many as one-third of all traditional students in the next decade will “Go Pro Early” in work directly out of high school with the chance to earn a college degree as part of the package.
This disruption is being driven by several converging forces: the unsustainable rise in college tuition, a change in consumer demand among prospective students, extreme negativity about the work readiness of college graduates, an unpacking of what makes college effective (work-integrated and relationship-rich), and emerging talent attraction and development strategies by employers. These signs and signals pointing toward a more direct employer-student model of higher education are already emerging. And, the parents of the coming generation of college students in the US have just given a resounding vote of confidence in this future approach to college and career development.
When asked about a potential new pathway for their children to get a college degree, 74% of all parents of K-12 students would consider a route where their child would be hired directly out of high school by an employer that offers a college degree while working. (Nearly four-in-ten gave the strongest level of endorsement saying they would “definitely” consider this.) Remarkably, there are no meaningful differences in support for this new pathway by the parent’s education level, race, income or political affiliation – giving the concept broad appeal across the board. And parents not only see this path as a much more affordable route through college, but they also see it as a better pathway in preparing their child for ultimate success in work and life. Ninety-percent say “you can learn a lot from a job,” 89% say “work is important for personal growth,” and 85% say “work is important to one’s purpose.”
This strong value placed on work by parents of the coming generation of college students represents a major pendulum swing. Today’s college students are actually the least working generation in U.S. history. Driven by current dissatisfaction with the work-relevance of college and the work-readiness of graduates and the sheer intimidation of college costs, the parents of the coming generation of college students hope to change this dynamic. They endorse a very different model for the future. That said, they still value certain aspects of “college” such as the social development and critical thinking that are advertised as common benefits of the collegiate experience. But, of course, higher education does not have a monopoly on social development and critical thinking.
For a number of college graduates, higher education fails to deliver on effectively developing them into engaged citizens, socially mature adults and critical thinkers. There is a real debate about the evidence of these outcomes. And some have begun to argue that we are actually infantilizing college students. (This critique is particularly strong among conservatives, but is being raised in various ways throughout the academy as well.) Common behaviors associated with college life, such as binge drinking, poor eating and sleeping habits, and the “hook up” culture on campuses, can be viewed as more of a troubling vacation from the real world as opposed to a preparation for it. Taken altogether, these critiques challenge the notion that college is a fail-proof path to personal and professional development.
Certainly, college “done right and well” develops young people into mature, healthy and successful adults. Key elements in this formula include coaching, mentoring, work-integrated learning, real work experience, working across diverse teams, learning to survive failure (through actual failure), developing cultural understanding, and working on solving real problems. But workplaces – along with great managers and colleagues – certainly can help create these opportunities too. Yes, it will require some important tweaking to the hiring and talent development models of most employers. And it will necessitate innovative new higher education partnerships with these same employers. But, much of this development can be accomplished effectively for 18-24 year-old worker-students.
A ‘Go Pro Early’ model is certainly not for everyone, though. The study identified two types of students for which it is most suited and appealing: those who are “ambitious and debt averse” and those who are “college hesitant and debt averse.” The first group represents students who already have a career in mind, who value work experience, and their families are looking for ways to make college more affordable. The second group represents families who are also looking for more affordable college options, but for students who don’t find college to be a perfect fit for them, prefer an applied learning environment and are considering trade school options too.
Top employers such as Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) are already offering these kinds of opportunities where students can go straight from high school into apprenticeship programs that weave credentials and degrees into the process. And more broadly, there is a growing trend among large employers to offer college degrees as an employee benefit to attract and retain better talent and up-skill their existing workforce. Examples include: Walmart, Discover, Starbucks, Disney, Papa John’s and many others. This trend, I believe, will soon lead to more employers not only offering college degrees as a benefit for current employees but increasingly as a powerful recruiting tool to hire top talent directly out of high school as well. As the war for talent continues to intensify among employers, it will inevitably lead them to find that talent earlier and accelerate talent development in new ways.
A “job-first, college included model” could well become one of the biggest drivers of both increasing college completion rates in the U.S. and reducing the cost of college. In the examples of employers offering college degrees as benefits, a portion of the college expense will shift to the employer, who sees it as a valuable talent development and retention strategy with measurable return on investment benefits. This is further enhanced through bulk-rate tuition discounts offered by the higher educational institutions partnering with these employers. Students would still be eligible for federal financial aid, and they’d be making an income while going to college. To one degree or another, this model has the potential to make college more affordable for more people, while lowering or eliminating student loan debt and increasing college enrollments. It would certainly help bridge the career readiness gap that many of today’s college graduates encounter.
All this is not to suggest we will see an end to the traditional college experience. The model of full-time, residential students living on campus will still appeal to a sizable segment of the market – no doubt. This new pathway, “Going Pro Early” will however offer an important new route for many students to earn their college credentials at less cost, while learning workplace skills that the classroom can only hope to replicate, not to mention relationships that can only be built in a work environment. A majority of parents of the coming generation of would-be college students endorse it resoundingly for their children. And innovative colleges and universities that adapt to supporting students and employers in this new way will thrive. It’s simply a matter of time before the new world of “going to a job to get a college degree” disrupts the linear higher education pathway as we know it.
There are doctors who work with systems made of flesh and bone, with blood and veins and nerves. And there are doctors who work with systems of metal and steel, with ducts and refrigerants and valves. Both are critical to the world in which we live. Both are viable careers. One is widely respected; the other, underappreciated yet just as in demand.
“I make high school guidance counselors cringe,” said Steve Gutsch, HVACR instructor at Chippewa Valley Technical College. “I look at the students and I say, No. 1, you don’t have to go to a four-year college, and No. 2, you don’t have to go to college right out of high school.”
With the HVAC industry facing a serious shortage of talent that’s only expected to grow in the next couple years, some colleges and contractors have come up with innovative ways to help college and trade school be as accessible as possible to all who may wish to enter the field.
“If we can fill the funnel in high school, then it’s going to help them keep going to deliver more to the field,” said Dave Chatmon, district manager at Lennox.
TEACHING ON DEMAND
Chris Essar is an HVAC instructor at Blackhawk Technical College in Rock County, Wisconsin, where the college has just debuted a new program called “teaching on demand,” now in its second semester.
“Students actually do their homework online, and then they come in when they have the availability to do their lab work,” he explained.
Teaching on demand came about when the college president decided to focus on helping people work around their schedules to get them into classes. The first two HVAC classes — Air-conditioning Fundamentals and Electric Fundamentals — are co-work classes: Students have to sit in class a certain amount of time. From there on, it’s on demand. Students do their homework and watch prerecorded lectures online. Then, they can come in and do the labs.
“We have checkoffs in the labs, to make sure they got the skill they needed … they fill out the answers,” Essar said. “We read them. If you got it, move on; if you don’t, why don’t you go back and try to figure this out again.”
Essar said the biggest problem he has run into with teaching on demand is motivating his students, who are sometimes still learning time management. Classes are all one credit each, as opposed to more typical three-credit classes. Each credit takes about 20 hours in the lab, so they can get one credit done per week, as long as they stay on that pace. However, Essar has seen students sign up for too many credit hours or let their work slide.
“They have all this time at the beginning of the semester,” he said. “So then they start slacking at the beginning, then they get overwhelmed, and then they try to push at the end.”
Blackhawk Tech’s goal is to try to get new students who are currently working, according to Essar.
“If they need this class, they can audit that class,” he said. “Or if they’re in a career they want to get out of, they can take one or two credits, see if they like it, and keep moving forward that way.”
When Essar is talking to teachers and to parents of prospective HVAC students, he stresses learning skills that transfer to a variety of careers.
“There’s a lot of branches in the field,” he said. “When you learn your basics and when you know your heating and cooling systems, you’ve acquired a lot of skills that will help in the future doing other things. Troubleshooting skills, for example. I like to pitch it as having lots and lots of options; it’s the field with the most crossover. Controls, for example: Computer-based control stuff, all that stuff is just another branch of the field they can explore and go into. You can go into the electric field, plumbing, carpentry with the skills you learn. I always tell [parents], you’re paying for this particular program, but there’s so many other things you can actually do.”
EARN AS YOU GO
Ben Nusz teaches HVAC, construction trades, and renewable energy at Mid-State Technical College, a smaller technical college in the middle of Wisconsin. This year, the college started offering a 12-credit construction trades technical diploma, fully embedded into the HVAC program.
“It’s a building trades pre-apprenticeship sort of diploma,” he explained.
At Mid-State Technical College, a lot of students may get a degree in HVAC, work for a heating and plumbing company, and then go back and get their plumbing apprenticeship.
“So the question was, how do we take the things that we’ve trained and make sure they’re of value to them in these other pathways?” Nusz said.
All the trades — plumbing, HVAC, electrical, carpentry — have to take key courses that frequently overlap. Plumbers and HVAC students sit side by side learning things like blueprint reading, welding fundamentals, electricity, and fundamentals of construction.
“Now they can take these 12 credits — it’s basically everyone’s first semester — and then they can exit with a credential, a diploma,” he said. “We map out this entire pathway … chip away at your associate’s degree and now you’ve got your HVAC credential … or your renewable energy technician credential. Or, maybe you get your HVAC tech and you want to get your bachelor’s degree.”
Nusz calls these branches “career pathways,” and it changes the message that can be delivered to parents.
“It’s hard for me, in our technical colleges, to have a bunch of people with master’s degrees and Ph.D’s telling people not to go to college,” he said. “For me, that’s never the message. We don’t say ‘It’s this or this.’ Our pathway has allowed us to kind of change this message; you’re never doing something second-rate. You’re just doing this first. We say, ‘I want you to get that four-year degree, just start here.’ It’s saying, ‘We’ll take you there. We’re gonna give you a great trade along the way, and you’ll always eat.’”
The 12-credit pre-apprenticeship is offered two times during the year, and the second term runs January through April, so students can be out by the time the hiring season starts. Eighty percent of Mid-State Technical College’s students work part or full time while attending, so attending a full-time program isn’t feasible for them.
“We viewed this as a gap filler where they could then get employment but still work part time,” Nusz said. “If we’ve got really rigid parameters of when we offer our classes, it makes that impossible. We’ve tried to have all of our HVAC classes only on Monday and Tuesday. That frees them up three other days of the week. We try to make it work with reality.”
GIVE THEM THE TOOLS
Kendall Richards, president at All Comfort Services in Madison, Wisconsin, has been involved in recruiting new talent through the Lennox Impact Foundation. Giving out scholarships, which was the group’s prior focus, “has been kind of a failed attempt,” he said — not because they couldn’t raise the money, but because they could only help somewhere between six or eight students a year. Now, the foundation has started a reimbursement program, funding hand tools for those entering the industry.
Each dealer gets one reimbursement a year, “kind of with the message that … maybe you should be doing this for all your new hires,” he said. He’s also involved with the Lennox dealer high school mentorship program, where dealers are asked to commit to talk on the phone with a high school student, meet with them for an interview for a paid internship, offer a ride along or job shadow, or talk at a local middle or high school.
“You can do the HVAC, you can do an associate’s, all these are options,” Richards said. “What you want for your kids and friends and everyone in life is to keep the doors open. That’s what that does. I don’t want it to be looked at as the better option, because it’s just an option.”
Richards’ background is in public accounting and law, yet he ended up in HVAC.
“I believe in academics, [but] not as much as I believe in real life,” he said. “What HVAC offers to kids is a phenomenal opportunity. They make six figures, six or seven years down the road … if you’re talented, you’re hardworking, you educate yourself. It’s a great opportunity. It’s probably better than what 70 percent of the college students are making.”