By Bill Moore
My oldest daughter, Brady, recently purchased a house on Cape Cod. I couldn’t be prouder. She invited my wife, Maureen, and me down for our vacation and asked if we would help her out “organizing” the house.
The word “organizing” apparently means different things to different people. I figured this out after a week of painting ceilings and walls, sanding and refinishing hardwood floors, mowing the lawn, attempting to correct minor plumbing issues and assembling furniture for the new summer getaway.
All of this manual labor made me think about workforce issues and the need to strengthen our efforts to promote vocational education. Looking at the finished projects gave me a much greater appreciation for those who work in the trades. I had a genuine feeling of delight as each item on the checklist was marked “finished.” I thought about the pride in accomplishment that those in the trades must take in their finished products.
I also wondered why we don’t do more to urge our youth to consider the trades as a career track.
A career in the trades, whether it be in automotive, construction, mechanical, electrical, engineering or any other discipline is an honorable one that can make weekend carpenters and mechanics like me envious. Learning a skill that becomes a lifetime career is a tangible reward in and of itself. The financial reward is a strong one.
What are we doing to encourage young people to enter the trades? Consider this: There are hundreds of jobs in Vermont that do not require a college degree. Many economists agree that not everyone should have a college diploma, that many good-paying jobs in the trades pay more than what an average college graduate earns. Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, points out that the average electrician makes $5,000 a year more than the average college graduate.
I remember Sen. Marco Rubio’s line during his 2016 presidential campaign that “welders make more than philosophers.”
As my generation heads off into retirement, there is a critical need to replace baby boomers in the workforce. The Vermont Futures Project (VFP), a creation of the Vermont Chamber, tracks our economy and our job needs. We need to replace approximately 11,000 jobs annually just to remain even with where we are today.
Vermont Futures Project uses a “six-pillar system to track the data on the Economic Dashboard annually. Each pillar measures a different area of economic growth with multiple data sets.” Those pillars are Economic Activity, Innovation and Entrepreneurs, Workforce and Talent, Vermont Demographics, Quality of Place and Infrastructure, and Investment.
On Economic Activity, we are “stagnant with little change which continues to be a growing concern.” More concerning are comments on Workforce and Talent: “This pillar continues to be a drag on economic growth.”
We need to reconsider what it is that we are doing to encourage entry into the trades. Trade schools and vocational and technical colleges and training provide career tracks that are financially rewarding. The careers available are honorable and provide life-changing opportunities. They are opportunities that cannot be outsourced. They are the key to success for many.
Bill Moore is president and CEO of the Central Vermont Chamber of Commerce.