So, Just Know That We're Overselling STEM
I had thought about titling this post, "Why do we oversell STEM to girls?" Then I thought better of it, because I knew that it would give readers the wrong idea about what my purpose is for this post, and for those of you who normally tweet articles out based on title alone, well, you get the picture.
Recently, I've been hearing about how hard it is to find skilled tradespeople. There are probably two major factors here, one of which doesn't really come up in the articles I've been reading, and another that does. I'll focus on the one that has been showing up lately--the dearth of students coming out of trades programs in schools. (Read this article from PBS News Hour for more information) There is data aplenty about the types of credentials high school students are graduating with, and to be honest, not many of them are useful. I wrote about two months ago about the value of a diploma. (What Good is a High School Diploma?) I still hold to my opinions in that post; however, I think that it is worth considering the damage that a "college-for-all" approach can potentially have.
When I was in the classroom, I taught a dual enrollment course in college composition. It gave the kids a college credit as long as they earned a C. When they graduated though, they couldn't really take that course anywhere but to more schooling. Don't get me wrong, I feel that having solid, developed writing skills and good systematic, methodical, thought processes will get everyone further in life, but that's not the same thing as having a license to practice in a particular field. Writing, outside of positions looking for communications or English degrees, functions as a soft-skill.
Much of STEM work in public schools is intended to give students a leg up into their college career. Robotics clubs, Computer Science/Coding, AP Chem, Bio, Physics, all of these are great for a college application. And while efforts to bring young women into the fold of the male-dominated STEM world is admirable, how many girls are encouraged to become electricians, mechanics, or plumbers? There is just as much entrepreneurial opportunity in those fields, and I would argue (cautiously) that there may be more--and there would be more flexibility in where these trades are practiced. If there is in fact a dearth of tradespeople, then doesn't that mean the student would be able to find work in more places than just say, the STEM hotspots where those jobs are? I've known students who (after or sometimes even prior to graduation) are able to stay close to home, earn good money, and have the flexibility of running their own schedule.
Now the second thing at play here--why I think we may just now have started to hear about the dearth in tradespeople--is that the current administration is actively trying to banish immigrants from the country. I live in an area where there is constant construction on developments. Developers will look for any unclaimed handful of acreage and start building. I have been accustomed to seeing workers who have come from the other side of our southern border, but lately, there have been fewer. I only include this detail, because I feel like it's been left out of the articles I've been reading. I'm not sure as to actual decline in skilled tradespeople because of deportation or immigrant flight, but my gut tells me it's not negligible.
So, in all, when I consider this developing dearth of trades availability, I see an opportunity, and I see that we have miscast those students who have been working hard in some cases physically as well as mentally, as lesser than those students who are groomed for STEM. People used to come out of high school with diplomas and the promise of work. In an America where promises are not what they used to be, perhaps it is time to encourage our students to actively consider all the options rather than only the four represented by a tired acronym.