School programs

Shortage of tradespeople leads to new school programs

About 20 years ago, high schools slowly began to phase out classes that taught trades, instead emphasizing getting everyone into college. But three things have happened since: baby boomers are retiring in record numbers, there’s an explosive need for people with job skills with all the new construction caused by the housing shortage, and schools are realizing that not everyone is destined for university. To fill the void, businesses in need of skilled workers are working with school systems to create a series of programs to educate children about trades-related jobs and the skills needed to succeed.

Mechatronics jobs suffered from a similar problem about 15 years ago, but a group of companies in need of workers with these skills have partnered with the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce, public schools, two-year post-secondary schools and Middle Tennessee State University to develop dual-enrollment programs. enabling high school students to graduate with marketable skills and key certifications leading to well-paying jobs with opportunities to develop these skills with additional training. Local businesses dependent on trades have launched similar programs.

“Trades are a good solid career,” said Norman Brown, owner of Roscoe Brown, “they can be done anywhere. And you can earn a lot of money.

The construction trades are one of the top five high demand industries right now. Businesses need plumbers, welders, electricians, HVAC technicians, construction managers and machinists. After conversations between many of the same parties that came together to work on the issue of mechatronics, programs were developed to educate children about the trades.

“We’ve had some great conversations about how to get kids into some of these careers,” Brown said.

They created a program called “If I Had a Hammer” for elementary school kids that teaches how to build a house and how to do fractions at the same time. It helps children understand how a house is built while gently introducing them to careers in the trades.

Middle school students are informed about the trades and the skills needed to succeed in them during career days. And there are now four high schools back to teaching skilled trades. Companies that need children with business skills are pushing for these courses to be available in all secondary schools.

“The endgame,” Brown said, “is to get kids interested. Now people come from all over the United States to see what we do.”

Roscoe Brown has created an apprenticeship in trades program. It is a state-certified twelve-month program. Participants have the opportunity to earn a living and at the same time acquire a lifetime of applicable skills. There is a lot of practical training. No cost is applicable to participate in the program, but it takes 8,000 hours of work to obtain an apprentice certification. Certification is good for other states besides Tennessee.

A student who went through Oakland High School’s construction program and then Roscoe Brown’s apprenticeship program, now runs his own truck.

“I suggest those with a possible interest in one of the trades make it a point to ride with someone at work,” Brown said. “We have a program for that. All you need to do is be at least 16 years old and sign a waiver. One day you may follow someone doing HVAC, and another day you may follow a plumber…[The trades] are perfect for kids who don’t want to work in an office.