A key problem that’s on our minds often here at Dream It Do It is the skills gap: companies in manufacturing and the skilled trades have many jobs open, but there aren’t nearly enough skilled workers to fill them.
Ask 10 different people the solution to the skills gap and you’re likely to get 10 different answers–it’s clear that there’s no one silver bullet to get more workers in the pipeline to start filling jobs. And yet, even in those many different answers, you’ll probably hear a common theme: education.
No matter where the workers come from or what specific trade or industry they ultimately end up in, they first need to be educated and trained. The programs exist at community colleges and technical schools all around the country, so getting students educated is not a question of program shortages. We think, in part, that it’s a question of access and affordability.
There’s good news with regards to access: just a few weeks ago, the White House announced the expansion of the Federal Pell Grant program as part of a large new education initiative. Though previously Pell Grants were available exclusively to college students, now, select pilot sites around the country will offer up to $20 million in grants for over 10,000 high school students to pay for college courses provided by community colleges. Put another way, high school students for whom community college was previously out of reach can now kickstart their education with dual enrollment while they’re still in high school!
According to the White House, dual enrollment programs “help high school students earn better grades and increase their likelihood of college enrollment, persistence and completion.” This is especially true for low-income and underprivileged students, for whom these programs should be quite beneficial.
Most excitingly, these new grants build on an idea that’s been floating around the manufacturing community for some time: that dual enrollment programs are an excellent door to the skilled trades. In dual enrollment programs, high school students can earn a high school degree and learn technical skills all at once, allowing them to gain employment in manufacturing or the skilled trades right out of high school! Between the Federal Pell Grants which as we mentioned are soon to be expanded, and work study programs offered by many manufacturers, students all around the country have many options to graduate high school and land a successful career without any student debt. It’s hard to imagine a better opportunity than that.
Dual enrollment programs have always been beneficial, and with these new expansions, they could be even more fruitful for select students. If you’re in high school and unsure about a career path, it would be very worth your time to weigh the opportunities presented by classes at your local community college.