EDITORIAL – Skilled trades offer students a path to success

“At the crossroads of future innovations and a robust future society lies the nation’s construction industry, where everything starts. Ideas are evolved into designs that are transformed into a physical reality.”

– NCCER report, “Restoring the Dignity of Work

 

For at least a generation, a four-year college or university degree was considered by many to be a non-negotiable stepping-stone on the path to a lucrative and fulfilling career.

But rising student debts and an increasing disconnect between employment-seekers’ skill sets and available jobs has turned that received wisdom on its head.

Too many students are graduating with four-year degrees, mountains of debt and few opportunities to use the knowledge and skills they have acquired in their schooling. Others try their hand at university, learn too late that it’s not for them and drop out – likely also with student loans and even fewer job prospects.

The truth is, not every young person has the interest, aptitude or means to pursue a university education; even if they did, there would not be enough jobs in those professional and specialized fields to go around. At the same time, society suffers without skilled tradespeople to build our houses, roads, schools and churches, to maintain and repair critical systems.

Enter Michael Myles with a plan.

Mr. Myles, who could rightly be called our islands’ strongest and most stalwart youth advocate, has announced that he is creating a vocational school to train Caymanian students in high-demand skills such as carpentry, construction, electrical, HVAC, plumbing and automotive repair. The school, which he hopes will begin offering courses in July, will also teach students “soft skills” that will help them succeed in the trades.

His proposal fills a real need for training for our trades-minded young people and addresses a serious skills gap in the industry which, as Mr. Myles noted in an interview with the Compass, heavily relies on a foreign workforce to keep up with demand.

Mr. Myles is to be commended, and his efforts supported – particularly by parents and educators who influence young people’s choices and who may be unaware of today’s job market realities.

As has been noted by the U.S.-based National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) – the nonprofit education foundation that has certified Mr. Myles as a master trainer – many parents, teachers and school counselors still consider college as a child’s only real chance to secure a prosperous future. In actuality, the group notes in a July 2018 report, only about one-third of the jobs in the U.S. economy require a bachelor’s degree or higher and in recent years, supply is significantly outpacing demand. We expect similar figures would hold true on Cayman.

Every person deserves the right to contribute meaningfully to our economy and enjoy the fruits of their labor.

By making sure our residents have access to trade and vocational training, we can help foster a society that rewards individual initiative, offering clear paths for the pursuit of excellence and the dignity of work.