The HVAC industry has more eventual jobs to fill from among recent high school graduates than there are people to hire. One problem is that high school graduates often don’t consider a technical trade as a viable career path. Perhaps influenced by school counselors, parents or even peer groups, many students single-mindedly pursue a four-year college degree (whether or not their academic history supports such a decision). Many young folks miss the opportunity to create a more direct path to prosperity – and a better life – through a career in the trades.

StrataTech's Survey

One reason high-school graduates don’t pursue trade careers is a lack of awareness, according to a survey by StrataTech Education Group, which operates several skilled-trade institutions, including The Refrigeration School Inc. The company conducted the study to explore attitudes and beliefs about trade schools and skilled trade careers among young Americans and their parents. 

33% of survey respondents don’t know about available options

The most common reason high school students don’t consider a trade school is that they don’t know the options available. According to the StrataTech study, 33% of survey respondents don’t know about available options.

Other barriers to trade school cited by respondents are expense (30%), lack of confidence in their ability to perform a skilled trade (26%), and pressure from the community to attend a 4-year university (23%).

Slightly more than half of students surveyed (51%) said they considered attending a trade school.

CEO of StrataTech Speaks Out

There is no one-size-fits-all path to success for high school graduates

Mary Kelly, president and CEO of StrataTech Education Group, says there is no one-size-fits-all path to success for high school graduates. “For decades, students believed a 4-year degree is necessary to succeed in life, but we believe differently. We are optimistic this research show perceptions are shifting and there are opportunities to strengthen pathways to skilled trade opportunities.”

One challenge is that high schools tend to push the idea of college over trade school. In the survey, only 32% of respondents reported that their high school promotes trade school education as a potential path (compared to 73% promoting 4-year universities and 45% promoting 2-year college programs).

Parental objection does not seem to be an obstacle to a student choosing to attend a trade school. Among parents in the survey, 93% said they would support their child’s choice to pursue a career in skilled trades. Specifically, 62% said they would provide emotional support, 57% would provide major financial support, and 47% would offer limited financial support, such as letting the child continue to live at home while pursuing a skilled trade certification.

A majority of survey respondents see trade or vocational schools as just as “credible” as traditional college – 82% of responding parents and 73% of students.

The survey included 1,000 high school students and 1,000 parents of high school students across the United States.

Addressing The Shortage

Many students who sought a 4-year degree have been disappointed by their job prospects

Addressing the skilled worker shortage in the HVAC industry will require approaches on multiple fronts, and directing high school graduates toward technical trade careers is an important element of the broader effort. Many students who sought a 4-year degree have been disappointed by their job prospects after they graduate. Pursuing a technical trade career, such as HVAC, provides a more direct path between high school graduation and an independent life built around a successful career.

HVAC professionals can play a role in communicating with today’s youth about the value of their work, their job satisfaction, and the better life available with a well-paying job. Encouragement can go a long way to overcome any lack of confidence among young people about their ability to perform a skilled trade.

As the StrataTech survey results suggest, there is a solid foundation to build on and an opportunity to attract more young people to the trades. The future of our industry depends on it.

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