(From left to right — graduates Damon Smith, Durron Smith, Alain Enriquez, Torrance Henry)
The average cost of a four-year college education for the 2020-2021 school year, according to information provided by Forbes magazine, is more than $30,000 for private institutions and close to $20,000 for in-state full-time students. While attendance at college and universities is heavily endorsed for high school students, it can become quite costly. On the other hand, trade schools offer a cost-effective path to a lucrative career in the skilled trades without acquiring a hefty amount of debt. Aside from its financial appeal, trade school is a lesser endorsed path but could lead to big bucks.
One local Detroit high school ensures students interested in the trades will have the experience and knowledge to execute. A. Philip Randolph Career and Technical Center is the only career and technical school within the Detroit Public Schools Community District. First opened in September of 1981, Randolph offers hands-on training and education in the construction trades career path. Randolph offers classes in masonry, carpentry, pipefitting, painting and drywall, and many other programs.
With the help of a partnership between Detroit At Work, DPSCD, and IBEW Local 58, a union for electrical workers, A. Philip Randolph Career and Technical Center created a specialized program that will help graduates get on the path to the trades. Through the program, students can learn the skills necessary and enter into the workforce.
“It was a partnership that was created about four years ago with the focus being creating a direct pathway for youth to get accepted into apprenticeship directly out of high school,” says Omar Hasan, Employer Engagement Strategist for Detroit At Work. “We’ve been setting up the infrastructure, and now we’re at a point where we just set up our first four completers of the program who had graduated from Randolph and have been accepted into the union.
Graduating from A. Philip Randolph, in June 2019, the four cohorts were able to work and earn money fresh out of high school. After earning the opportunity for a permanent position, each was accepted into the union.
“They worked over the summer of their graduation and then they got hired by the contractor that they were working with. Then, they applied for their union apprenticeship and they got accepted earlier this year,” says Hasan.
For students interested in enrollment, the cost for trade schools is significantly lower than that of a four-year degree. Ranging from $3,000 to just under $15,000 depending on the program, upon completion, workers have the opportunity to make upwards of $80,000 per year and more. Trade school also takes a shorter time to complete. In just two years, a student could receive a certificate specializing them in a specific skill.
“Plumbers are making $100,000 plus and in some cases, we’ve come across plumbers making $150,000 (a year) with all the work that is going on across the city from new construction, rehabilitating old buildings, roads that need to get repaired, lead lines that need to get replaced,” says Hasan.
The financial stability offered by working on the skills trade helps to create economic mobility. Depending on the field, With the average age of skilled workers topping 55, retirement is on the horizon. With so many leaving the workforce, the opportunity to enter the field and begin to build is palpable.
“They’re going to be retiring in the next five to seven years and you’re going to have this huge vacuum of half of the workforce retiring and we don’t have a real plan in place to make up for that,” says Hasan. “The best we can do is to get students and their families educated about what these opportunities are.”
While this is the first class the program has successfully completed and had an electrical focus, it will not be the last. There is a similar program available for masonry, and there are plans to roll out additional programs for new cohorts and additional unions.
“We really want to seize this opportunity and take advantage and use these success stories to motivate kids and let them understand what opportunities are available to them right out of high school,” says Hasan.