Above: Kelly, left, as a child with her family, looking forward to a vacation in Hawaii.
Why All Hands Raised is challenging how educators think about skilled trade professions
I still vividly recall the heart-to-heart conversation my father had with me long ago about college. He never went to college or graduated from high school. Yet he was convinced that I would go to college to have more opportunities.
It all made sense as I listened to him and gazed at his hands. They were the hands of a working man who picked up a mop at 11 years old to earn his first paycheck. He started mopping floors at the local funeral home and then graduated to cleaning up at an auto repair shop. His hard work paid off when a senior mechanic took him under his wings and taught him the trade. My father was a quick study and became a sought-after mechanic, advancing and eventually opening his own business. His skilled hands created lots of opportunities for our family.
But my father firmly believed that a college education would be best for me, and I obliged. I have no regrets because college opened doors for me.
However, college is not the only way to a successful career. My father’s story and financial success prove this. And in communities like Portland, Oregon, companies big and small are vying for talent. They’re not always looking for college-educated professionals. They’re searching high and low for skilled professionals. Trade careers are lucrative in Portland, with high school graduates earning up to $60,000 a year while they learn as apprentices.
Helping students, parents and educators see that college is not the only path to cradle-to-career success has been a three-year effort led by Cradle to Career Network member All Hands Raised. Portland is witnessing a recent dramatic increase in students taking advanced coursework needed for in-demand construction and manufacturing careers. That includes the launch of the state’s first HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) pre-apprenticeship to be embedded within a high school.
Nate Waas Shull, vice president of partnerships for All Hands Raised, says, “The data was showing us that 78% of high school graduates in Multnomah County go college, but just 37% of them graduate. A key driver of that is that the kids are overwhelmed by college. They need to make money. So, they drop out with huge debt.”
Waas Shull works with partners like the Pacific Northwest Carpenters Institute and manufacturing partners like Boeing to host Industry for a Day. Nearly 40 employers provide educators with hands-on experience in construction and manufacturing jobs, so they have a greater appreciation of the options available for their students.
“It’s not hard to turn the light bulb on, but it does take exposure and that’s where our signature event, Industry for a Day, comes in. We’ve taken 350 teachers out to active construction and manufacturing sites. Once they have hands-on exposure, it turns the light on. That’s the head level. But at the heart level, there’s still this deeply held believe that, if it were my kid, I’d rather they go to college,” Waas Shull says.
Emi Donis, general counsel at Senior Aerospace SSP, is working with All Hands Raised at Centennial High School in Portland. She says, “Industry is desperate for workers. At the same time, you’ve got kids in high school — and not everybody’s going to college. But in the schools, all they hear about is college. So, the kids go to college, leave after a year or two and get stuck working in fast food with a bunch of debt. We’re trying to help those kids.”
Donis helps high school students apply for jobs, and she is working with All Hands Raised to help employers improve access to trade professions.
Now, as a mother, it’s my turn to have heart-to-heart conversations with my teenage twin daughters while they weigh the opportunities ahead. As I encourage them to think about career possibilities, I ask them to consider what they enjoy doing and the earning potential. College may end up being their path to success, but it is not the only option available.