The World of Trade Schools

“There’s always been the plumber jokes growing up where it’s like, ‘what are you going to do, be a plumber?’ Well, plumbers make six figures starting out after being trained and getting an apprenticeship. They get certified, they get their license and they’re doing very well. There’s a high demand right now for the trades,” said Sean Peschel, the Extended Learning Opportunities (ELO) Coordinator at ORHS. 

With 74% of ORHS students going to a four-year college after high school, there are other opportunities that are out there. The trades are an industry that offers quick entry into the workforce, a great amount of job opportunities, and hands-on work. ORHS has been making efforts to educate students about the trades through Career Technical Education (CTE) classes from local high schools and organizing field trips to the CTE classes and trade schools. 

The trade industry is an ever growing career opportunity that ranges from fields of construction to health sciences. The trades are sometimes a more affordable form of education than going to college, but some trades school students end up going to college after they complete their trade. The local NH School of Mechanical Trades’ classes start at $2,300 depending on their courses, but it is still cheaper than a community college tuition which ranges from $4,816 to $8,581 per year. For private community colleges, that cost is approximately $15,505 per year according to Community College Review’s data of Average Community College Tuition Cost. 

ORHS offers access to three nearby high schools: Dover, Rochester, and Somersworth for some of their trade programs through CTE classes. There are currently 53 Oyster River students attending these classes that could help them get into trades after high school. Students who travel to the other high schools do miss about two periods a day because of class time and travel. Some of the classes include welding, fire science, automotive technology, and restaurant management. 

From the 2017-2018 school year, there were 28 students attending CTE programs. In the 2019-2020 school year, that number rose to 53 students. “In the three years I’ve been here, I’ve seen that number expand. We’ve seen more students come forward wanting to go into trades. It’s a population that’s small, but at the same time, rising,” said Peschel. “I’m not sure if students are aware of what is available after school. Oyster River provides access to all pathways, whether that’s college or a gap year, or going right off into work or going into trade school.”

Going into trades or CTE programs does not eliminate the chance of going to college. In fact, more than 88% of CTE students are planning to continue on to postsecondary education according to the Association for Career and Technical Education’s (ACTE) data from College and Career Ready through CTE. From the same study, the ACTE found that one third of CTE students have the opportunity to earn college credit or certification through their CTE class. 

For students who want to see trades in the real world, Peschel helps organize field trips for five different industry areas: hospitality, manufacturing, construction, informational technology, and healthcare. Students can sign up for these field trips through the counseling office. These field trips take students to hospitals, restaurants, construction sites, and hotels to see real workers in their fields. 

William Proulx (‘20) went on a field trip last school year to the New Hampshire Job Corps in Manchester and discovered that he wants to pursue a trade in advanced manufacturing. Proulx has finished filling out his paperwork for the NH Job Corps and said, “with the Manchester location, you’re getting paid to go there and they train you and help you get a job [which takes you] right into the workforce.”

Local trades schools are focused around quick entry into the working field, as the NH School of Mechanical Trades in both Manchester and Hampton hold day and night classes twice a week. “You can work around taking our classes and still being employed, so the benefit is that you can actually enter the trades and some of our programs are only 8 weeks of day classes and 15 weeks of night classes. It’s a quick way to enter the work field in a trade and continue to gain more education while working in that trade. You can enter quickly without spending a lot of money,” said Melissa Patterson, the Office Manager & Student Counselor of the Hampton location. 

John Kingsman (‘20), who is looking to go into the welding industry after graduation, favored trade school in part because of the school’s focus on the student. “The main focus [of trade school] was on your trade and what you want to do as a career. It wasn’t to just try and shove you into class to do four years of English or history, it was more focused on the job that you wanted to have,” said Kingsman.

For students in and out of the CTE programs who are looking into trades, the main appeal was the hands-on work. Kingsman said, “I always liked working with my hands and building things and I really got into cars not too long ago and I realized that welding was a big part of that […] so I thought that might be an avenue I want to go down.”

The NH School of Mechanical Trades has a classroom that is equally balanced in classroom and hands-on learning. “A lot of our technicians are working during the day so we try not to make them have a lot of extra work at night. They’re just using their time here at the school to do their learning. They’re working on actual units made by several different manufacturers so they are having time with the systems they’ll be working on in the field,” said Patterson. 

Proulx noted an additional benefit of learning a trade. “Test the waters because you’re not going to lose that skill, that’s still a useful skill. If you go into plumbing, you’re going to know how to plumb your whole house and then you can do odd jobs and get some money on the side. Or electrical, you can do your house or do somebody else’s house,” said Proulx.

As far as the stereotypes revolving around trades go, Kingsman said, “I think that [trades] are not something that you should be scared about going into or be embarrassed about. If that’s something you want to do as a job, then that’s a good opportunity for a person because it’s a cheaper option to get you into a better education for what you want to do later in life.”