Contractors Asking Congress to Bring Back Shop Class

Originally published by: Construction MagazineMay 19, 2016

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With major worker shortages expected to persist and even rise for the construction industry, there are calls to bring shop classes back to schools.

One such call came earlier this week when Shapiro & Duncan, Inc.’s Paul Tse explained to Congress how a high school degree and technical education (CTE) program launched his successful career in construction. Tse, a project manager for the Rockville, Md.-based contractor, testified at a hearing of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce titled “Helping Students Succeed by Strengthening the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act.”

“It is time that students, guidance counselors, educators, parents and the American public recognize the fulfilling and lucrative careers that can be achieved in construction and skilled trades,” Tse said in written testimony submitted to the committee. (Download his complete testimony). “We must all work to remove any stigma that exists that choosing a CTE program over a traditional four year college is somehow ‘settling.’  Those four years I spent at Montgomery College and out in the field, I worked just as hard as students at colleges and universities.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the construction industry will face a shortage of 1.6 million skilled workers by 2022. Already more than four in five members of the Associated Builders & Contractors (ABC) group say they are facing a shortage of appropriately skilled labor, despite an annual workforce development investment of $1.1 billion.

“Instead of pushing kids down the ‘traditional’ path of college-prep, we should be pushing kids to explore learning opportunities that prepare them for college and a career,” Tse said. “Whether the destination is an engineering degree from the University of Maryland or a journeyman’s license from the state of Maryland, high schoolers should have equal opportunities to prepare for either pathway.”

A similar call for action came from the Houston-based company FMW Fasteners. A survey among its customers called for more investment in shop classes. According to a press release from FMW, of the more than 300 respondents, 70 percent said there’s not enough emphasis in the curriculum on shop classes in schools, with over 60 percent saying there should be more investment and 60 percent saying that investment has dropped when compared to 10 years ago. Customers are calling for shop classes to be protected with retiring teachers replaced.

“Our new administration, whoever that may be, needs to take note of the swell of opinion around the value of a continuing education for our new adults in Shop,” says Steve Baker, Marketing Director, FMW. “There’s a lot of noise around so many international issues, and I get that. But when it comes to educating our new adults, there has to be a common sense value added approach to ensuring continuing investment in shop classes. What are we going to do when there’s no one left to fix or build anything?

“Shop paves the way to a better understanding of applied maths and science. It can inspire invention and contribute to the creative arts – it underpins the English curriculum by ensuring students communicate and articulate instructions. Not all students go to college to study academic subjects, so what I’m saying is we need to ensure we strive for a balance in the continued education of our new adults that suits those with academic ambitions and those who want to shape, make and create. There’s a real value in investing in our future craftsmen and women, yet it’s seen as a dying subject in our schools. This is short sighted and has to be addressed.

“What kind of outcry would there be if PE classes were to stop when the teachers retired? Not everyone is going to end up in the NFL or MLB, yet PE is seen as important. Shop has to be given the same status.”


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