Trades Like Carpentry and Electrical are More Important Than Ever
Kenny Ellsworth participating in the Cabinet Making competition during the National SkillsUSA event.

Trades Like Carpentry and Electrical are More Important Than Ever

The American economy needs more trades workers--CNM Is Part of the Solution
July 05, 2018

In late June, 21 CNM students flew to Louisville, Kentucky for the National SkillsUSA event where they competed against other top-tier American trades students in everything from cabinet making to electrical wiring. Working fast but smart, they put their classwork into practice and several brought home medals, including Nicole Engler who won a bronze in Commercial Baking, and Dustin Allen, Dakota Wood, and Greyson Tagg who won a silver medal in Welding Fabrication.

In addition to the competitions, SkillsUSA also gave students an opportunity to see the energy and excitement that surrounds the trades sector here in the United States. Twenty years ago, trades fields like carpentry, electrical, and welding weren’t a consideration for many college-bound students, but now they’ve become a well-paying and well-respected career option for those who prefer a two-year degree pathway over a four-year one.

“Students coming out of the School of Applied Technologies at CNM (where the trades programs reside) often find jobs in New Mexico that start at $50,000,” said Denise Ojeda, an instructor in the Electrical Trades program who travelled to Louisville with the students. “That, and most (graduates) have never accrued any (student loan) debt.”

The national picture is even better. America is expected to need 10 million skilled workers to fill new and existing trades jobs by 2020. While that “skills gap” can be scary for those who watch the national economy—and rightly so—it’s a great opportunity for students studying career and technical education (CTE) programs such as carpentry and welding here at CNM.

“No other department is seeing the kind of job demands we have for the programs in Applied Technologies,” said Kristen Benedict, the new dean of AT.

To ensure CNM students are getting the best and most up-to-date training, AT constantly works with local industry partners who come in to advise CNM on curriculum, provide trainings on new tools, and offer student internships -- all to ensure that CNM grads are ready to excel in the workplace as soon as they graduate. The department is also teaching “soft skills” such as teamwork and written communication, which students will need to master if they want to move up in their careers.  

By attending events like SkillsUSA, CNM students get to network with national organizations for potential employment opportunities and valuable advice. Steve Greene, the Vice President of NCCER, a Florida-based non-profit that creates national CTE curriculum and helped run the SkillsUSA competition, says his organization is actively trying to ensure more women, people of color, veterans, and people who’ve been formerly incarcerated can enter fields like carpentry. On another front, NCCER is fighting the stigma that a four-year college is the only path to success in the modern economy.

“We need to make sure every high school student in America knows they have the option to be career ready, and don’t have to just be college ready,” he said.

Eric V. Gearhart, who’s in the Partnership Development office at SkillsUSA, said his organization is trying to reach younger students to help them understand the power of a CTE education, while simultaneously reaching out to parents who are starting to realize that community colleges—where CTE education is a priority—are a much better investment for some students.

“These parents are taking a consumerist approach to college and showing their kids that if they enroll in a community college, they’re going to have a much easier time getting their money’s worth,” he said.

Gearhart thinks that CTE has come a long way, but argues there’s still work to be done on how the country views this sector of education, and how we ensure there’s enough well-trained workers to meet the upcoming workforce demands.

“We have to keep fighting the stigma that trades jobs are ‘dark, dangerous, and dirty,’ and instead show that this country not only depends on, but also needs to respect, those people who work with their hands,” he said.

Click here for more information about the programs offered in CNM's School of Applied Technologies.