Shortage of skilled workers leads to high-demand for trade employement

Electric worker dresses protectively to perform task safely.

Trade careers offer lifestyle that deviates from conventional four-year college

Risha Chada | The Chronicle

Aimee Liu | The Chronicle

A national shortage of skilled workers has threatened the conventional post-graduation path.

Despite what many high school students believe, going into a trade—a skilled job that often requires manual labor—can prove to be a resulting and lucrative career. Michael Giovinazza, the owner of Raiden Electric, a local electrical company, believes that the trades offer an immediate headstart into a career that students who go to college would not necessarily have. Giovinazza said that college is not for every student, and many would benefit from a more dynamic trades path.

“The environment that I work with and look at is never static,” Giovinazza said. “The people I [work] with change day to day and week to week and month to month. That kind of change [makes electricity] a good field to be in.”

Much like the benefit of a dynamic environment, the opportunity to learn from one’s mistakes is also very common when working in a trade. For Giovinazza, who owns his own business, making the right investments and hiring the right people determines whether or not his company succeeds. Giovinazza said that, while college is not a necessity to go into a trade, learning from one’s mistakes is.

“You just have to make mistakes, learn from [them] and move on,” Giovinazza said. “You have to hire the right people to keep you out of trouble [as a business owner].”

For Giovinazza, trades provide an avenue for growth and improvement that he finds fulfillment in. The ever-changing workplace, however, is not the only benefit of going into a trade. With a shortage of skilled workers (such as tradespeople) nationwide, Giovinazza said there are many considerable financial benefits to doing his job that should not be overlooked.

“All the tradespeople are suffering from too many people retiring and not enough people coming into the trades,” Giovinazza said. “The downside is that we’re having to work a lot more, but the upside has to do with supply and demand, because I’m able to raise my prices considerably.”

Starting Raiden Electric has proven to be not only rewarding, but also financially successful for Giovinazza. He said that knowing what he used to make at a corporate job, as well as what those around him make in traditional careers, he is satisfied with the path he has taken.

Electricians at Raiden Electric work on a building’s system.

“Most people in my family are engineers and lawyers, but I have more job happiness and probably make more money than most of them,” Giovinazza said. “[Opening a business] was the right decision for me.”

For high school students who may also want to pursue a trade immediately after high school, one option is the Great Oaks Career Campuses. Based out of Cincinnati, the Oaks aims to provide innovative career training to empower individuals and their communities by offering a variety of programs such as auto services, construction, cosmetology, culinary arts, digital art, electricity, firefighting, health care, game development and welding. One of these campuses is Scarlet Oaks, which is located in Sharonville and serves Mason High School students.

The Director of Teaching and Learning at Great Oaks, Joel King, oversees the four campuses and works with teachers, administrators and business partners to develop and improve programming. Students at Scarlet Oaks take a mix of regular, Honors and College Credit Plus (CCP) courses that comprise their eight-period schedule. Four of the periods are the required high school core courses, while the other four are in a lab-based environment geared toward a specific program the student is enrolled in. Ultimately, King said the student experience at Great Oaks is very similar to one of a typical high school.

“Typically, in [a high school] schedule, you have some electives, like art classes, foreign languages, choir or band,” King said. “For our students, their elective would be their lab. It’s exactly what [Mason] has, it’s just that half of your day you get to spend in a career tech lab.”

The benefit of attending a Great Oaks school comes in the half-day that differs from a typical high school schedule. For students that are passionate about a specific trade, the labs at Great Oaks offer hands-on training and job preparation. King said one of the biggest benefits of attending the Scarlet Oaks campus is that they simulate a real-world working environment and provide training for free.

“Our auto tech lab looks just like a car dealership, with the lifts and wheel balancers,” King said. “All that equipment is there because students are learning how to apply their knowledge and actually use that equipment.”

Electric consultants of Raiden Electric fix wiring while atop a roof.

Because Great Oaks hosts students from many different school districts, high schoolers get to share their interests and meet many new people. In addition to this fostered community, King said that the benefits of getting to actually apply course information help many students, not only attain success in certain fields, but also realize their other possibilities.

“They get to understand the different parts and understand how that benefits their program. I’m actually applying terminology so I’m not just going to learn about those concepts, but I’m going to learn how to do things effectively.

While the heavily application-based instruction at the Oaks may not be seen in a traditional classroom setting, counselors from these career centers as well as counselors from students’ home districts are “always in constant communication,” according to King, to make sure kids are on track for graduation. He said that students at Great Oaks “still have to meet all the same requirements for graduation” as those in typical high schools.

Guidance Counselor Sally Clark, who taught before she became a school counselor, believes that regardless of whether a student is going into a trade or a four-year college, the skills taught in the classroom will stay with a person forever. Clark said that in high school, both at Mason and the Oaks, certain skills are taught that can be applied to every aspect of a professional career.

“The skills that you learn in a classroom—organization, time management, attendance, the ability to work together in a group—you’re gonna take all of that to a job,” Clark said. “Those skills that you learn as a youngster, you take with you into the real world, regardless of what you’re gonna do.”

During their time with the Great Oaks programs, many students also pursue real-world career experience. Because of the resources that Great Oaks has access to, being involved in their programs often makes it easier for students to find employers. King said that many companies are willing to talk to students and offer positions.

“All of our programs have a business and advisory council made up of employers, post-secondary partners, parents, and students,” King said. “We’re always trying to connect students with those possibilities and encourage them to participate in all those different opportunities. One of the best things about the Oaks is that you get to experience a lot of different things and understand what it is you’re really passionate about.”

Information about vocational schools is easily accessible to high schoolers, according to King, many just choose to go down the traditional college path. Students can talk to counselors to get information, schedule individual visits, and also have virtual tours and interactive videos through the Great Oaks website, but many choose not to take advantage of the opportunity. King said he believes one of the biggest reasons for this is that students simply do not want to leave their friends.

“One of the hardest things [about going to Scarlet Oaks] is, when I was in high school, I didn’t want to leave my friends,” King said. “[Going to the Oaks] means taking a chance to see if it’s something you really want to do.”

Another option for those who have decided that a traditional four-year college after high school is not for them is to attend a two-year college, or an off-campus university to stay closer to home. Clark categorizes these paths into three main groups: students going to a traditional four-year college after graduation, students going to two-year colleges or looking to continue their education from home, or students who are unsure of their next step. Clark said there has been much growth in the second group, but Mason has plenty of resources for those who are still undecided to help them find something they love.

“[The next group] is students who would like to try the college experience, but are maybe looking to stay at home which is a wave that is actually really growing,” Clark said. “We’re seeing [tremendous] growth in that two year start, but we also continue working with some other students who are still unsure of their path and connecting them with employers until the end of the year.”

Even for students who know where they are going after high school, if it is not a traditional four-year university, there is often a stigma surrounding that path. Many high schoolers feel pressure, whether internal or external, to follow a traditional high-school to college approach. King said that with the increasing openness of the current generation, he hopes that people will begin to see the freedom that Great Oaks provides for opportunities after graduation.

“One thing about our programs is that they don’t prevent you from going to college,” King said. “Some of our students actually get their college paid for by their employers. It’s a unique opportunity. [This] generation is the first realizing that there are so many opportunities and possibilities, you can do anything and everything you want to do. The [Great Oaks] is really just a way to get a leg up on experience and competition.”

Clark believes much of this college mindset also comes from her generation giving kids the perception that college is a necessity to be successful. Oftentimes, Clark sees parents who have gone to college guide their kids down the same path, resulting in the mindset that college is the only next step after high school. Clark said that going to the Oaks or a vocational school, however, can result in a career as lucrative as pursuing a degree and working a “traditional” job after college.

“The kids that start at the Oaks vocational school really do have a jumpstart and are able to come out [of school] working [and earning],” Clark said. “If we are all open minded about what we want to do, and we stay on our own path, it is more than likely that [students will] find the one that works.”

The success that many kids who graduate from vocational schools experience dispels the common misconception that pursuing a trade or enrolling at the Great Oaks and attending college are mutually exclusive. King has worked to make sure that families have all the information they need before making future decisions. He said that the many opportunities the Oaks provide simply give students tools to set them up for success in the world.

“It is a leap of faith to come to the Oaks, but it’s important for everybody to explore different career fields,” King said. “It gives you an opportunity to really explore, and it’s ultimately just about having opportunities and possibilities.”

While many people tend to hold limited views of what they may be able to pursue in the future, the opportunities that vocational schools and local businesses are providing, as well as counselors like Clark, have been working to erase the stigma of needing to attend a four-year college and work a corporate job. Clark said that because life will always have ups and downs, perseverance is crucial.

“Regardless of where you’re going, whether you’re going to college or to the workforce, life is about learning,” Clark said. “It truly is a journey, no matter what path that you take.”