The Stigmatization of Hands-on Careers

Over the last fifty years K-12 students have been encouraged to think of four-year college as their best hope for a livable income and a professional lifestyle. There are many reasons for this, but it started in part during the 1950s when it became common to track students into different educational pathways.

Tracking of Students Leads to Problems

Before the 1950s students in school were often taught hands-on skills, the assumption being most students needed to learn skills like carpentry (for boys) or cooking (for girls). However, in the 1950s schools started to “track” students into likely career choices. Those students who were considered college-bound were sent to increasingly academic-focused classes, students who were not college-bound were tracked into different learning pathways.

On the surface, this tracking system was designed to help people find a good career that fit their interests and aptitude, but it had other consequences. For many the tracking system became a method for sorting individuals by class and race, sending wealthier and whiter students on to college and everyone else into more hands-on careers. The resulting stigma has plagued the trades for decades.

The “College isn’t for Everyone” Message is Flawed

Not only has the messaging of “college isn’t for everyone” created negative ideas about which students are capable of college, it has stigmatized careers that do not require four-year college degrees and suggested that these careers do not require higher education. In fact, most hands-on careers, especially those in the trades, do require training that goes beyond high school. Furthermore these careers can be attractive options even for individuals who are considered college-bound.

It’s Time to Create Positive Messaging

As a culture we need to stop the stigma associated with hands-on careers and start sharing positive messaging about how these careers are great options for students with the right mechanical aptitude, whether not they are also academically inclined.

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