As the cost of a college education continues to skyrocket and many degree-holders find themselves debt-ridden without jobs to cover the debilitating loan payments, a resurgence of interest in …
As the cost of a college education continues to skyrocket and many degree-holders find themselves debt-ridden without jobs to cover the debilitating loan payments, a resurgence of interest in blue-collar professions, which can be obtained without university degrees, has sparked out of necessity and interest.
Current Bayport Blue Point Chamber of Commerce president Carol Seitz helps run her family’s company, Therm-a-Trol, which has historically employed local Bayport-Blue Point School District students since its inception in 1967. Chris Cavanaugh, owner of the hometown pub Cavanaugh’s in Blue Point, actually apprenticed for Seitz’s father before taking over his family’s restaurant.
In recent years Seitz has noticed a scarcity of students applying for a trade position with her family’s company and was perplexed as HVAC technicians enjoy high salaries (some as high as six figures) and in-demand employment opportunities. Upon taking leadership this past year, Seitz outlined a three-point focus plan for the chamber; one was to shore up the trades program within the community, particularly at the high school, where young adults were beginning to carve out their future careers.
“In speaking with older people who went to BBP High School, there was a lot of value in having shop class because it helped students who were more tactile find their passion,” Seitz said of why she wanted to introduce a youth-oriented goal to the chamber. “We have to do better in offering our students more exposure to all the different types of careers they can have.”
Nationally, there also is recognition of this lack of workers with the proper skill set for trades professions. In a popular NPR article in 2018, it was stated that “high school graduates have been so effectively encouraged to get a bachelor’s that high-paid jobs requiring shorter and less expensive training are going unfilled. This affects those students and also poses a real threat to the economy.”
President Trump has outlined initiatives for more emphasis and funding to trades programs and schools, most recently in his signing the renewal of a bipartisan federal workforce development program, spending $1.2 billion to aid over 11 million students in receiving more specialized training.
“When we invest in our workers, we are investing in our people,” said the president when he signed the bill into law in July 2018.
Locally, Superintendent Tim Hearney of BBP Schools has worked with former Legislator Bill Lindsay (D-8 District) to make connections with unions and learn about their apprenticeship programs.
“During the last recession, we had to make a reduction in the number of students we sent to BOCES programs, but we have been taking measures to provide students with more opportunity in the technology field,” he said of the current low enrollment of BBP high school students in trades programs. “Recently, through a community approved bond, we were able to build STEAM labs in the high school, which have opened the doors for students in terms of building and computer science.”
Through the School to Business program, a joint venture of the BBP Chamber of Commerce and BBP High School, students have been given the opportunity to shadow professionals in both white- and blue-collar fields. The shadow days, which have been held for over 10 years, allow students to experience real-life exposure to gain an understanding of what profession they are interested in.
“In School to Business, we want to show kids it’s viable to bring them into a technician’s career,” said Seitz of the program.
“We want to provide pathways and exposure to our students for college, trades in the automotive industry — everything,” added Hearney, as he described a new project where he has been working closely with unions, such as the IBEW, to develop fact-sheet resources forstudents about each trade, including apprenticeship opportunities, average training time, average salary, and other integral factors to selecting a career path.
“It’s important for parents and students to know that if college isn’t your fit, there are plenty of other fields — well-paying fields — for tactile workmanship,” continued Seitz of her overall goal as chamber president and the trade initiative.