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Thursday, Apr 19, 2018
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Trade schools deserve a seat at the higher education table

When it comes to post-secondary education, high school students are usually steered toward small or mid-sized colleges, major universities or community colleges. However, there’s another, even more direct route they can take to prepare for a successful career: a trade school.

As lead automotive instructor at Wesley Chapel High School in Wesley Chapel, I manage the school’s Automotive Academy, which is far more than an elective. It’s a specialized training program that prepares students to go straight into the workforce or continue their education in the automotive field.

Here, students work on six to eight cars daily, doing everything from oil changes to suspension and brake work for “customers” who are faculty members from local elementary, middle and high schools. The real-world knowledge they gain through this program positions them to enter an industry that needs plenty of skilled workers.

In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor projects that by 2020, there will be more than 1.4 million jobs in the collision, automotive, diesel, motorcycle and marine industries. There’s evidence of the demand here in Wesley Chapel. It’s not uncommon for local dealerships to call me in search of entry-level technicians. And because trade school is a path for some of my students, I am able to direct them to potential employees.

These employers are not looking for just “mechanics.” It’s a misconception that these jobs require little more than a monkey wrench and a toolbox. The truth is, today’s cars are just as smart as our phones. Recent developments in automotive technology — such as infrared headlights and parental-control systems — call for math, science and engineering skills.

Even so, the “auto shop” stigma persists, and it’s time to change the perception.

Take it from me. I’ve experienced traditional and nontraditional education. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in horticulture from Michigan State University and then from the Motorcycle Mechanics Institute — a division of Universal Technical Institute.

Having seen the benefits of both worlds, it’s a disservice to our young people if trade schools are not part of the post-graduation discussion.

I encourage parents and educators to provide a road map that includes all the career options — and training programs — that are available. Ultimately, the decision is up to the students, but at least they will have all the information they need to choose the path that’s right for them.

Jeffrey Corliss, a graduate of Motorcycle Mechanics Institute, is an automotive instructor at Wesley Chapel High School.

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