Could Home Schoolers Save the Trades?

By Rob Warren Published on January 22, 2019

A DC area plumbing company has a labor problem. They are trying to increase the flow of new recruits into their company. They offer a living wage, paid vacation, signing bonus, insurance coverage from head to toe and cradle to grave, and a retirement plan. They enroll their new recruits into an apprentice program and pick up the tab for all the classes through journeyman level. If the recruit perseveres, in four years he or she has a journeyman’s license and a 100 percent pay increase. Plus, the employee incurs no student loans and is almost assured lifelong full employment.

So why aren’t applications from potential future plumbers flooding into the mailbox of their Human Resources office?

Shortage of Tradespeople

This plumbing company is not unique. According to Alex Chediak’s article last summer, there is a nationwide shortage of skilled tradespeople. What most people do not know is that the shortage will only worsen. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, our country will need 75,200 more plumbers and pipefitters in 2026 than we did in 2016, a 16 percent increase. And this does not include training new plumbers to replace an aging workforce.

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Increasing the pipeline of new plumbers is critically important to the nation’s economy. But if you reside in Maryland don’t expect the public school system to ride to the rescue. In that state, only 171 students were enrolled in plumbing vocational training in 2017. In Frederick County, a rapidly growing suburb about 25 miles north of Washington, DC, there were 48 students studying cosmetology, but none opted to study plumbing. At least we will be well-coiffed while waiting for the plumber to fix our burst pipes.

Guidance Counselors Steer Students to College

Part of the disconnect may rest with the guidance counselors who often, with all good intentions, steer students better suited for hands-on career training into college. This affinity for university education has contributed to a dismal college matriculation rate. For example, only 26 percent of the 2011 freshman class at Frostburg State University (a four-year public college in Western Maryland) graduated within four years. It’s no better at Frederick Community College, where only 13 percent of the 2014 freshman class received their diplomas on time.

The Home School Advantage

To recap, the public school system likely can’t fix the problem. And guidance counselors are funneling students into colleges from which they are unlikely to graduate on time, with debt they cannot discharge in bankruptcy (an average of $39,400 per student for the Class of 2017). So, what is the solution? Two words: Home schoolers. In Maryland alone, there were 26,040 home schooled students in 2018 that had bypassed the “Educational Industrial Complex” and learned through a mix of academic and experiential learning.

These individuals are not inundated with the “everyone must go to college” mentally that appears to exist in our public schools. Home schoolers also have the flexibility to enroll in internships and part-time employment with local plumbing companies to make sure they have an affinity for the work. Perhaps most important, home schoolers benefit from having involved parents who can guide them through the cost/benefit analysis between apprenticeship programs and college with an eye towards the long-term outcomes.

Skip the University Pipeline

The plumber shortage threatens our nation’s economic growth and public health at the same time our brightest young people are searching for well-paying careers with secure futures. However, we cannot expect public school guidance counselors to grasp this and so divert some students from the high school to university pipeline into apprenticeship programs with companies such as the plumbing company described above. This is why the unions and private employers should forge partnerships with the home school community.

Home schoolers to the rescue!

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