For many years, completion of a four-year college degree — or beyond — was considered the ticket to a successful career and life for young men and women. While that still holds true for some, a prestigious college degree is no longer considered a prerequisite for a successful life.
Fortunately educators, including the leadership of our local school districts, are coming to recognize a good life is possible for those with proper training in the skilled trades.
The need for men and women in the skilled trades is underscored by the state of the Midwest economy. While the economy continued to expand in nine Midwestern and Plains states last month, that expansion was again hampered, according to Creighton University economist Ernie Goss, by shortages of skilled workers.
Goss’s Mid-America Business Conditions Index covers Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota.
“The regional economy continues to expand at a healthy pace,” Goss said. “However, as in recent months, shortages of skilled workers remain an impediment to even stronger growth.”
Goss’s comments echo the results of a recent employment survey conducted by the Council Bluffs Area Chamber of Commerce.
Speaking at the “Education Is Everyone’s Business” luncheon last Wednesday, Council Bluffs Community School District Superintendent Vickie Murillo shared her vision of every Council Bluffs student graduating with a high school diploma and “another piece of paper” by 2022.
The first couple of students have already met Murillo’s goal by participating in the district’s new Early College Academy and completing their diplomas plus certificates from Iowa Western Community College. The Early College Academy is now being supplemented by what the district has named the TradeWorks Academy.
The TradeWorks Academy will offer instruction and hands-on activities, beginning in the early high school years, in automotive and diesel mechanics technology, construction, electrical systems, plumbing and HVAC/refrigeration and fabrication and welding at both Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln high schools.
The career and technical areas at the two high schools are currently being renovated to accommodate academy needs. The first group of students will begin in the TradeWorks Academy in the fall of 2019.
Murillo urged local businesses to partner with in the new program through job shadowing, internships and summer jobs.
Corey Vorthmann, the district’s chief academic officer, said that with the TradeWorks Academy the district is trying to meet the needs of employers while also providing a path to success for students who don’t want to pursue a four-year degree.
“The need for a pipeline of skilled workers continues to grow,” Vorthmann said.
Chris LaFerla, executive director of the Council Bluffs Schools Foundation, noted that TradeWorks will be open to students from any school district and underscored the district’s interest in partnering with businesses.
“What will set these programs apart are partnerships with businesses in the community,” he said. “We want to provide opportunities for our students to learn from trade professionals.”
Rogene Smith, director of human resources at Conductix Wampfler, which manufacture mobile electrification and data transfer systems for industrial machinery at plants in Harlan and Omaha, said the TradeWorks Academy would be a great opportunity for a kid to earn a welding degree.
“And we could hire him right out of high school,” she said.
The Council Bluffs Community School District’s recognition of the needs for skilled workers and creation of the TradeWorks Academy to help address those needs marks a significant step forward for the entire community.