Early skilled trades education

A recent survey from the Associated Builders and Contractors revealed that the construction industry would need to hire 546,000 people, including thousands of plumbers, electricians and HVAC technicians, to meet current demand. And that’s
a daunting task.

Interest in skilled trades education has declined by half since 2020 (Yang, 2023), and there are many in the workforce nearing
retirement. This crisis is due, in part, to widespread misconceptions about the skilled trades. In some communities, access
to high-quality career and technical education (CTE) can be a challenge. So, a lack of firsthand knowledge about the
trades has led multiple generations of young Americans to form distorted perceptions of these occupations.

Fulfilling careers

Reversing these trends depends on students having early exposure to the skilled trades as a viable career pathway. Too often, young people who would enjoy and excel at the skilled trades pursue college learning pathways, which may lead to frustration and burnout. But when students learn about the skilled trades, they develop a balanced view of the opportunities available.

Early education in the skilled trades can help more students find the career pathways that suit them and ease the transition from education to the workplace.

Salaries in skilled trades industries are competitive with compensation in white-collar sectors. And, as demand for skilled trades workers continues to rise, so do wages. Some employers even offer incentives, like signing bonuses, to attract candidates. The same principle drives opportunities for advancement. Young skilled trades workers can rise quickly in today’s economic climate, and innovative technology solutions afford them more opportunities than ever to continually upskill and increase their value to employers.

Widespread and consistent skilled trades education is vital to solving the labor shortage. But returning to earlier models isn’t necessarily the answer. Because it’s not always feasible to launch and maintain traditional CTE programs in the skilled trades. Traditional training programs have long been resource-intensive, requiring expensive equipment, tools and space. Yet the hands-on element is essential.

Immersive digital learning

Digital learning tools offer vivid 3D and virtual reality (VR) simulations that are transforming the possibilities of skilled trades education. Students can experience a lifelike, hands-on introduction to their work. They gain a unique opportunity to practice and refine their skills in a safe, immersive, virtual environment before starting hands-on training on lab equipment. Tech-savvy students remain engaged and motivated, setting them up for long-term success and enhancing their job prospects upon graduation. And since today’s students belong to a digital-native generation, they respond positively to this style of engagement.

One critical benefit of simulation training for skilled trades is firsthand experience. It can provide unique insight into day-to-day activities, address common misconceptions and expand the potential audience for trades programs — and ultimately for trades careers.

Interplay Learning provides immersive training solutions for the skilled trades.

Read more in Techniques: VISION in the Spotlight.