After decades of pushing bachelor’s degrees, U.S. needs more tradespeople

August 29, 2017

PBS NewsHour
By Matt Krupnick
The Hechinger Report

FONTANA, Calif. — At a steel factory dwarfed by the adjacent Auto Club Speedway, Fernando Esparza is working toward his next promotion.

Esparza is a 46-year-old mechanic for Evolution Fresh, a subsidiary of Starbucks that makes juices and smoothies. He’s taking a class in industrial computing taught by a community college at a local manufacturing plant in the hope it will bump up his wages.

It’s a pretty safe bet. The skills being taught here are in high demand. That’s in part because so much effort has been put into encouraging high school graduates to go to college for academic degrees rather than for training in industrial and other trades that many fields like his face worker shortages.

Now California is spending $6 million on a campaign to revive the reputation of vocational education, and $200 million to improve the delivery of it.

“It’s a cultural rebuild,” said Randy Emery, a welding instructor at the College of the Sequoias in California’s Central Valley.

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Above: Student Kalei Kipp in Cedar Crest High School’s welding program in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, during the 2016-2017 school year. Three percent of welders in the U.S. are women. Photo from PBS NewsHour’s Student Reporting Labs series “Outside the Box.”