“I hear from guidance counselors that even when a child is interested [in a career in the trades], the parents talk them out of it,” says Sherry Bruck, president of Harquin, a marketing firm that works with the county’s Workforce Development Board. “Whether they are high-income or low-income, the parents have been programmed into believing the four-year degree career path is the only way to go.”
Nonetheless, both students and their parents are starting to take a fresh look at the trades because of factors like the high cost of college, the widespread career dissatisfaction driving the “Great Resignation,” greater appreciation of the jobs done by essential workers in the pandemic, and energetic efforts by workforce development professionals to challenge the myths.
“A lot of these careers are very sophisticated and have very big opportunities for advancement and growth,” says Bruck.
Many local employers are pushing for more efforts to create a talent pipeline. Nonprofit Westchester, an organization devoted to advancing the interests of Westchester’s nonprofit sector, has found that the county’s nonprofit healthcare organizations — such as some nursing homes, group homes for people with developmental disabilities, and domestic violence shelters — are struggling to fill open positions.
Jan Fisher, executive director of Nonprofit Westchester, says it will be essential to develop a pipeline of talent for the county’s nonprofit healthcare organizations. “There is tremendous need out there in the trades,” says Fisher.
But she says addressing it will require a shift in thinking about these jobs. “When we work together to value and elevate all jobs and all industries that keep our economy and community strong, we’ll be better for it,” says Fisher.
Many people would be surprised to know how much some of the sought-after jobs in the trades can pay. For instance, the average pile driver operator in New York State makes $56.22 per hour, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nuclear power reactor operators earn an average of $55.78. And air traﬃc controllers bring in $75.32 per hour.
Some local residents are taking note. Putnam Northern Westchester BOCES — which currently offers programs in auto body, auto mechanics, baking and pastry arts, barbering, carpentry, construction electricity, HVAC, and welding, to name a few — enrolled 1,135 high school students and adult learners for the 2021–22 school year.
Local colleges and universities have been adding to options for students who want to try the trades. For instance, SUNY Westchester Community College has added training for certified production technicians to prequalify them to work in advanced manufacturing, according to Harold King, president of the Council of Industry in Newburgh. Students can learn job-related skills in measurement and safety and take tours of local plants. The first cohort in the certified production technician program will include about 10 students, according to King.
The program is designed to fill gaps in the local manufacturing workforce, which spans industries from electronics to food packaging, he notes. “Manufacturing, in particular, was having trouble filing middle-skilled positions,” says King. “The pandemic exacerbated that. It tended to have an older population. A lot of those folks retired.”
Meanwhile, Mercy College, in Dobbs Ferry, launched a new division on workforce credentialing and community impact in November. The division will introduce new programs that will help students prepare for jobs in the trades.
“It’s not that we are taking away in any way the value of a BA or college degree,” says Brian Amkraut, vice president and general manager for workforce credentialing and community impact. “For the right person at the right time, a skills-based competency credential could be what they need to get that job, to get that promotion, or to retain your workforce effectively as an employer.”
Mercy is also planning to roll out training programs in technology fields, such as cybersecurity, and non-degree, just-in-time certificate programs in healthcare for jobs such as front-lines admissions professionals and billing. “All of these jobs can create pathways for sustainable careers,” says Amkraut.
Mercy is seeking input from local employers to shape its offerings with the goal of creating a curriculum that teaches the skills the market is looking for. “We want to be strategic and moving in the direction where there is demand,” says Amkraut.