I’ve been doing research on technical schools and training programs for the past month. As an education writer, I’ve never tackled a topic with such a steep learning curve. Every time that I think I have a handle on the topic, a firm conclusion, an angle, I talk with someone else and learn something new.
Every other topic that I’ve covered, I had some direct experience as a starting point. I’ve been involved in education in one way or another for thirty years. I’ve been a special ed teacher, a grad student, an education policy researcher, a professor, a parent, and an education writer. But the world of the trades is something totally new. Call it a bubble if you like, but I just haven’t had much direct contact with the blue collar world.
One question I keep asking is whether or not these jobs that don’t require a college degree can lead to a middle class lifestyle, especially in higher income areas in the Northeast. On paper, it looks like the answer is no. But people are telling me “yes”. Those salary charts don’t tell the whole picture. People double up on jobs.
A kid in New York City can get a job in the police force out of high school. If the kid gets some college credits at the local community college, the starting salary is $42,500. The average salary is around $70. I’m not sure if that includes overtime. After twenty years, cops can retire, collect a full pension, and then get a job as a firefighter in New York City. They can double their salaries in their forties.
A high school guidance counselor told me stories about electricians who work for the school district. They work until 3:00 for the school, and then work independently in their community and collect another salary off the books. He sends his own kid to a technical high school, because he’s sure that his kid will be employable when he’s done with his education.
The weird thing as I’m talking to people about the trade job market, they start whispering. Like they don’t want to tell others about how it’s really done. They don’t want the college kids to find out how it works, because they’re worried that they’ll start poaching their jobs.
Another thing that I keep hearing is that a great number of the kids who are funneled into the trade schools are students with some issues, like learning disabilities, family problems, or come out of bad urban schools. They stumble with work and with these trade schools, because they can’t manage to wake up in time, can’t remember where they are supposed to be, can’t fill out applications for school or jobs. But those without those issues, or are able to overcome them, have tons of opportunities.
Anyway, that’s just some of the gossip that I’ve gotten in the past few weeks. It’s all anecdotal stories at this point. I’m trying to piece it all together into a big picture. It’s going to take a while.