The issue: 

Many young people, especially men, aren’t pursuing a college degree.

What we think: 

The more local opportunities to pursue trade careers, the better.

Tell us what you think: 

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Higher education isn’t creating a perfect pipeline between employers and a highly trained workforce, and some concerning data may indicate the problem is only going to grow worse. Thanks to some local efforts, however, Colorado Springs could find itself a little ahead of the curve.

For decades, single-income households where men financially supported the nuclear family were considered the norm. When women began to enter the workforce, they were often funnelled into positions that didn’t require a college degree or specialized training. Women, however, have steadily caught up with men when it comes to earning degrees, and they’ve narrowed the wage gap. But education, and therefore the future workforce in the United States, is now facing a new challenge: Fewer and fewer men are attending college.

From The Atlantic: “American colleges and universities now enroll roughly six women for every four men. This is the largest female-male gender gap in the history of higher education, and it’s getting wider.”

The Wall Street Journal reported that U.S. colleges enrolled 1.5 million fewer students last year than five years ago and that men accounted for more than 70 percent of that decline.

“The statistics are stunning. But education experts and historians aren’t remotely surprised,” The Atlantic reports. “Women in the United States have earned more bachelor’s degrees than men every year since the mid-1980s…. This particular gender gap hasn’t been breaking news for about 40 years….”

We’ve heard it before: Not everyone is meant to go to college, and the student debt crisis is making many people reconsider tertiary education altogether. But everyone should have the opportunity to build a financially secure and fulfilling future. As the desire for a degree declines among a significant segment of the population, more opportunities need to be created for those who eschew higher education for another path. 

An example is the Manufacturing Industry Learning Lab in Widefield School District 3, one of the most successful local efforts to get young people involved in the trades. Its students just built a house as a class project. The MiLL is just one of several locations statewide hosting Careers in Construction Colorado Home Builds and classes, and the program, facilitated by CICC, “is a hands-on experience where students use the skills they have learned in their classroom settings — carpentry, plumbing, electrical, OSHA 10 safety, and more — to construct the new home. Construction industry professionals provide on-site support through Builder Captains as well as licensed trade partners.”

But is it enough?

PBS News Hour’s “Work Shift” series this week reported one plumber in Seattle was looking to hire as many as eight workers who could earn up to $200,000 a year but couldn’t find qualified help. One reason is the continued stigma surrounding manual labor, despite the fact that many trade jobs now require a skilled workforce with technical skillsets.  

Young men not interested in higher education have often been encouraged to pursue an occupation in the trades, but women and people of color continue to face barriers when it comes to finding work in these fields. That limits opportunities for deserving candidates and employers.

“So, how to get those tens of millions of low-wage workers better opportunities?” News Hour asked. Their answer: “Government job training programs are one route, like Back to Work Rhode Island, where then-Governor Gina Raimondo used federal CARES Act money to fund training programs in areas where employers couldn’t fill jobs.” 

Outside government intervention, apprenticeships also show promise. Pikes Peak Community College has long offered apprenticeship programs that get young and eager workers into the workforce. Other educational institutions in the region should follow suit.

It’s true: More and more men are deciding not to get a degree. But the trades are still in dire need of qualified workers, no matter their gender. The tricky part is making sure each side knows the other exists.