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Education

High school students explore careers in trade at Palomar College

Nearly 700 students from 27 high schools in the area participated in the Trades Day event Tuesday at Palomar College.

The students got some hands-on experience with jobs in the building and construction industry, including dry-walling, woodworking and welding — to name a few.

Wolfgang Warshaw, a San Diego High School’s GeoTech Academy senior, said it was a fun experience. He's looking at a career in engineering but wants to know his options.

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"We've been doing a lot of stuff this senior year, trying to figure out what's next, what the next steps are for college, mainly apprenticeships,” he said.

His classmate Klarisabel Rodriguez was looking for the same thing. Through GeoTech, she’s found a passion for electrical engineering and trades.

“I want something to be able to learn fast and quick because my comprehension is very fast, and I just love engineering in general, like construction," she said. "I love trade.”

The event was hosted by the Construction Industry Education Foundation (CIEF). The event aims to show that trade careers are not dead-end jobs.

"There's a lot of earning potential right out of high school, right out of an apprenticeship," said Dustin Hildebrand, CIEF's youth program coordinator. "I think carpenters right now are at $63,000 coming out of their apprenticeship — for first-year carpenter. So there's a lot of potential growth.”

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He said there's a shortage of skilled workers in the U.S., and the need is growing. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, some trade sector jobs are expected to grow by more than 10% in the next decade.

"So we're trying to introduce students to that career field at an earlier age and try to encourage them towards that path of finding an apprenticeship or an internship right out of high school," Hildebrand said.

Beyond internships and apprenticeships, students can also get an associate degree in the trades, such as welding. Educators at the event said skilled workers with a college degree can increase their lifetime earning potential.

Daniel Rodriguez, one of the demonstrators at the event, is going through the welding program at Palomar College. He said it was rewarding seeing students learning the skill.

"At first, you can tell they get a little discouraged when they see us cutting and it's not coming out the way that they want," Rodriguez said. "But once you explain to them the process on how to cut it and you have to grind it and stuff like that, a lot of the kids get really excited towards the end."

The program at Palomar College is part of the American Welding Association, a nonprofit organization with a mission to advance the welding field and help members get jobs worldwide.

"There's also other programs where you could be a journeyman, which means they select you, and then they'll send you out to different parts of the world," Rodriguez said. "And honestly, the sound of that sounds really cool. You could potentially be working in Mexico, China, Africa, India — anywhere that they need welders."

There's benefits to getting a degree in the trades, Hildebrand said. There are some apprenticeship programs where students can earn their associate degrees during their apprenticeships. And there are opportunities that don't require working on the field.

"Where you're being more of a project manager or an architect and actually in the office drawing up plans for a future building," he said.

As for Warshaw, after having tried his hands at metal cutting, he said it piqued his interest in welding.

“I really do like it. It's something that’s satisfying for me," he said. "I feel good when I'm doing it.”

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