Trades Keep America Running, and We Need Them Now More Than Ever!

by: Tiffany Smiley
Published: May 20, 2024


Spring has always been one of my favorite seasons. Growing up on a farm in the Tri-Cities, spring meant orchards exploding in blossoms and the start of a new growing season. Spring also heralds the arrival of graduations, when thousands of American high school seniors walk across the stage with their hard-earned diplomas and look toward the next chapter of their lives. For many in my generation, traditional college was the logical next step. However, for today’s graduates, that calculation has shifted in the face of rising tuition rates, campus unrest, an uncertain job market, and in spite of a persistent societal bias against those who don’t go to college.

Our country has always thrived because men and women were willing to roll up their sleeves and do the work that needed to be done - it’s time we honored that tradition again. We, as a society, must actively fight against the stigma that has long accompanied choosing a vocational career track over a traditional college education. Just as we once valued the workers who “built America,” we must also show our support and appreciation for those who now want to help keep her running! 

Once seen as the ticket to achieving the “American Dream,” confidence in the value of a four-year college degree has seen a sharp decline in recent years. In 2017, a WSJ-NORC Poll found that 53% of Americans believed the cost of attaining a college degree was worth the investment because it would lead to a good job and higher income over the course of their lifetime. Less than 10 years later, that same poll showed an 11 point drop in confidence, while those who do not believe the value of a college degree is worth the cost rose 16 points to 56% of adults polled. 

Why is confidence slipping? For years we’ve watched as woke ideology has permeated our schools, stifling free speech and the sharing of opinions - both hallmarks of a rigorous college education. We’ve seen campuses be overtaken by protestors calling for the eradication of the Jewish people, while school administrators waffle on the definition of “hate speech” and stand meekly aside as their schools are hijacked by entitled mobs. These scenes stand in stark contrast to the values of Main Street America; and when combined with the fact that college tuition has more than doubled in the 21st century many students are left looking for alternatives that provide a path to reliable employment without the added baggage of staggering debt. 

Just as confidence in the value of a traditional college degree has dropped, so too has the belief that younger generations will be better off than the generations that preceded them. An initial survey released by “Rescuing the American Dream” showed that 73% of all voters believe their children’s generation will be “worse off” than their own. This closely tracks with the feelings of Gen Z adults who, thanks to the lingering impacts of pandemic policies, skyrocketing costs for housing and staggering amounts of student loan debt, believe “they’ll never make enough money to attain the security of previous generations.”

Where does that leave this new generation of graduates? For Gen Z, the trades have become an appealing alternative to traditional schooling. Dubbed the “Toolbelt Generation,” many young people are drawn to vocational training programs thanks to the promise of a secure career track, rising pay, and the opportunity to combine paid apprenticeships with their training program. In fact, according to the National Student Clearinghouse, enrollment numbers for vocational schools jumped 16% while enrollment for community and four year colleges has declined. 

This renewed interest in trade is timely as older generations continue to exit the workforce, leaving labor shortages in their wake. We must do more to encourage young people to fill this growing need. 

To that end, the first step must be electing a President who will turn our economy around, create a business-friendly environment, and help remove the societal stigma surrounding those who enter the trades. None of those things have happened under President Biden’s leadership; and Congressional “leaders” like Dan Newhouse have done nothing to push back against these progressive, left agendas. Under the Trump administration’s policies, inflation hovered at 1.4% and gas prices were just over $2.00 per gallon; businesses flourished and our annual GDP fluctuated between 2.3% and 2.9% until the COVID pandemic hit and shuttered the economy. A growing economy encourages business creation and opens the door for those in trades to expand their workforce and grow their profits - all important factors in encouraging a new generation into the skilled trades. 

Additionally, students need to be exposed at an earlier age to trades. “Trades Nights,” such as this one in Spokane, are a wonderful way to highlight the opportunities that exist in the skilled trades; and ensure that graduates are making decisions about their future with as much information as possible. It’s time for every career day to include not only representatives for colleges and universities, but recruiters for vocational schools and apprenticeship programs as well! 

This spring, as a new class of graduates strides across the stage, let’s make sure they are equipped to face their future armed with the awareness of all the opportunities that await them and eager to start the journey toward their version of the American Dream!

  Huntington Beach News

Huntington Beach News 18582 Beach Blvd. #236 Huntington Beach, CA 92648  

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not represent the views of