Local School Districts Promote Skilled Trades

Local School Districts Promote Skilled Trades
Trade Student | Image by Shutterstock

Amid a deficit of skilled trade workers in the U.S., some North Texas independent school districts are deploying programs that allow high schoolers to get a tailored education geared toward trades, creating a talent pool to staff jobs like electricians, plumbers, and line workers.

Both Dallas ISD and Fort Worth ISD offer Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) graduation plans, which allow students to earn their high school diploma while gaining industry-recognized certification and work experience in high-demand job fields.

P-TECH is not a diversionary alternative to college readiness an attempt at tracking students. The program also offers high schoolers the opportunity to earn up to 60 hours of tuition-free college credit, roughly equivalent to an associate’s degree.

Still, the school-to-skilled trade pipeline might be providing the most visible benefits to North Texas high school graduates.

At Fort Worth ISD, for instance, a partnership between the district and Oncor Electric allowed now-high school graduate Fabian Ramirez to get early job training in electrical work.

Oncor ended up paying for Ramirez’s trade school studies at a local community college and sponsored his training to become a utility lineman, a job with a base salary as high as $86,000.

“It’s unbelievable. Like, I would have never thought that [I’d] get a job like this,” said Ramirez, speaking with NBC 5.

Fort Worth ISD Collegiate High School Principal Quanda Collins said of Ramirez, “He’s 19. And on a trajectory to have a solid foundation, financially, no college debt.”

High school students entering skilled trades early not only set themselves up for future financial security but also meet a national need.

“The skilled labor shortage is one of the biggest challenges facing the U.S. economy,” stated Stanley Black & Decker CEO Jim Loree.

Speaking about the role that private industry could play in making up the deficit, Loree said:

“Collectively, there is more we can do to make trade careers resonate with young people. We can increase career and technical education … programs at schools and ensure students appreciate the income potential and lifestyle advantages of skilled trade careers.”

No one needs to tell Ramirez that.

“There’s definitely a need for people to join these trades,” said Ramirez. “Now, my dad can take a break from working a lot, and I can help with some bills. Every once in a while, we can go out and take my family out to eat or something like that. Like now, I have the money for it.”

While Dallas ISD and Fort Worth ISD plan on expanding P-TECH, given the program’s relative success, both districts still struggle with their standardized test metrics and on-time graduation rates.

Recently, a report issued by Fort Worth Education Partnership (FWEP) found that nearly two-thirds of city students in third-eighth grades are not attaining “at grade level” scores on their STAAR tests.

Dallas ISD continues to struggle for its part, with only 41% of its students meeting grade level on STAAR exams administered in 2022. While it managed to outperform Fort Worth ISD in this regard, last year’s graduation rates are troubling indicators for both districts.

Nearly 20% of Dallas ISD students did not graduate on time, either dropping out or otherwise failing to complete their high school education in four years. Fort Worth ISD did not do much better: roughly 15% of its graduating class of 2021 did not receive their diplomas on time.

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