via The Virginian-Pilot [link]

THE KIDS ARE starting to get it. When will parents?

“It” is the idea that the path to career success and security does not necessarily run through a four-year school or a so-called “prestige” occupation.

Not long ago, Quentin Kidd, director of the Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University, reported on a survey of 600 Peninsula parents. As reported in Inside Business:

“For the most part, parents seem to encourage their children to pursue prestigious positions that they also perceive to be the highest paying, including engineers and scientists, according to the presentation. They seem to discourage their children from becoming welders or electricians.”

Kidd is quoted as saying, “The perception of prestige is pretty dramatic.”

And yet the availability of manufacturing jobs in Hampton Roads ticks steadily upward. Manufacturers continue to tell us that it’s hard to find skilled employees for their open jobs.

Tidewater Community College works with Chesapeake and Virginia Beach public schools and manufacturers such as IMS Gear, Mitsubishi Chemical Composites America, STIHL and many others to prepare students for careers in advanced manufacturing.

Dylan Starowicz, a recent graduate of Great Bridge High School and Tidewater Community College, was in the first cohort of Chesapeake dual-enrollment students in the mechatronics career-technical program. He is now earning a competitive full-time salary with benefits and learning even more on the job at Mitsubishi Chemical.

Dylan says he’s made his parents proud and is setting an example to his two younger siblings.

“It’s a good idea to give people different avenues to go down, not just traditional college. To get students to think about technical career and branch out and try different things,” he says.

His parents saw the value in a career-technical path for him. How do we spread that message to more Hampton Roads parents?

During National Manufacturing Month in October, TCC will spread the word about opportunities in career-technical fields and programs through our news and social media channels.

We will cut the ribbon soon on a new robotics lab at the Chesapeake Campus, which will help our students learn modern automation and controls technology used in today’s manufacturing jobs. Last December, TCC launched the Skilled Trades Academy in Portsmouth to prepare adult learners for careers in shipbuilding, construction and logistics.

But we can’t do it by ourselves.

I recommend that TCC’s new permanent president early next year ask Gov. Ralph Northam, in coordination with the Virginia Manufacturers Association, to declare October 2020 Virginia Manufacturing Month.

The 2019 National Manufacturing Day, which falls on the first Friday of October, has passed. TCC and its partners should start planning for the next one, which will land on Oct. 2, 2020.

A series of events for students and parents, from factory and college tours to PTA presentations, would expand parents’ knowledge and understanding of some of the exciting manufacturing careers out there. Then, all of those events should be in the National Manufacturing Day calendar, to link them to the national push.

If nothing else, mom and dad, what price are you willing to pay for your child to have a “prestige” career? LENDedu has reported that, for the class of 2018, the average debt per borrower was $28,565. In aggregate, student debt is $1.5 trillion.

Dual-enrollment students at TCC earn college credits for a tiny, tiny fraction of that cost. Like Dylan, they can graduate high school with industry credentials, a job and a head start on an associate degree. Like three in five TCC graduates, they can leave college with no debt. Instead of paying off loans, they could be paying off a car. Or a house.

Now consider that the average salary for a machinist in Virginia is north of $51,000, and you might start rethinking what makes for “prestige.”

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