How to Pay for Trade School

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Finding out how to pay for trade school is not much different from a traditional university.  People that have a great work ethic, can understand traditional work methods and methods using new computerized technology are in great demand. This means a lot of funding is being funneled into the trades from both public and private sources and finding money for trade school is possible.

Finding the Right Trade School

What school is right for you?  There are a lot of different schools out there that vary in cost and quality of education.  If you compare a welding program at your local community college to a welding program at a national chain school you might find a difference of over $20,000 dollars, but cost is not the only factor you should consider when choosing your trade school.

  • Talk to industry professionals.  People that are currently working in the industry of your choice will have seen the products of different educational programs and can give you insight on what programs are best.  They can also tell you where they got their start and what is required to get started in the industry.
  • Talk to trade associations.  Every trade has a trade association, welding has the American Welding Society, electrical contractors have the National Electrical Contractors Association, etc.  Trade associations can give you insight into educational programs and hook you up with industry professionals that can help guide you.
  • Google it.  Look for things like graduation rates, ratings and reviews.

This is your education, be sure to do your due diligence in researching the right school for you.

Talk to Your Financial Aid Counselor

Your first step in determining how to pay for trade school is to talk to the financial aid counselor at your school of choice. The financial aid counselor will help you fill out your Free Application For Student Aide (FAFSA) forms and explain all the costs associated with attending school.   There are also many private endowments that come from former graduates, and the counselor at your school will know all about these opportunities. They will help you figure out what you are eligible for and how to apply.

Filling out a FAFSA form will make you eligible for all federal grant programs as well as federal loan programs.  Along with federal grants, each state has at least one program to provide grants to students from their states.  The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators is a great resource, just click on your state to find out what is available.

Scholarships For Trade Schools

Brand Scholarships

Scholarships for trade schools are more abundant than most people think.  Big name companies in this country have a problem, lots of jobs and no one qualified to fill them.  In response to this problem, many brands have started giving out scholarships.  The best thing about these scholarships is they give you an immediate leg up in the industry.  Brands like Grainger, Catterpillar and Honeywell all give out millions of dollars in scholarship money each year.  If you are awarded one of their scholarships, the brand is more likely to hire you in the future.  Some companies like Ford, John Deere and CSX  prefer to give scholarship money through national high school organizations like the FFA.  The point is, big brands in your industry are interested in helping you get the skills you need to be successful in your industry.

If there is a brand you are interested in working for, a quick google search will tell you if they are giving out scholarship money and how to apply for them.  K&N air filters, Fluke meter company, Toyota, Lincoln Electric, all have some type of scholarship program available.  I think you will have a harder time finding a large company that doesn’t give out scholarship money than one that does.

Private Scholarships

Private Scholarships can come from any private or non profit organization, and guess what, there are a lot of those to. 

  • Build Your Future is a non profit organization that helps people get their start in the construction trades.  They have scholarships, and they are a great resource for finding out about career options in any of the construction trades.
  • Mike Rowe’s Work Ethic scholarship gave out over $800,000 to trade school students last year, and they would love to top that for next year.
  • Trade associations like the American Welding Society, The Collision Repair Education Foundation and The National Concrete Masonry Assocation  all give scholarships to students interested in learning their trade.
  • National high school organizations like FFA and 4-H award scholarships to their members at the local and national level.  Many times these scholarships are sponsored by a large company and this can give you a leg up if you are interested in working for that company. If you are a member of any high school organization, be sure to check with your leaders about scholarship opportunities.

Scholarship opportunities are out there.  Talk to trade associations, Google your favorite company or talk to people in your trade.  A little research can go a long way to finding the money you need to go to school, and giving you better employment opportunities once you are out.

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Apprenticeships and Work Study programs.

An apprenticeship is a great way to hands on experience, get experience towards your licencing requirements and make a little money at the same time.  Apprenticeship programs are usually offered by the union associated with your trade.  The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers offers apprenticeship programs to people interested in working in the electrical industry.  The United Association Union  of Plumbers, Fitters, Welders and Service Techs was one of the first to offer an apprenticeship program and they have done a great job working with company management to create a successful program.

Most large companies have some type of continuing education plan for it’s employees.  It may be a traditional work study program that allows you extra time off to complete your studies while partnering you with people in the types of jobs you are interested in, or it may be an offer to cover a certain amount of tuition each year.  Either way, you are earning money and continuing your education.

Student Loans

After completing the FAFSA application, you will receive a “Financial Award” letter, but it is likely that this award will include some student loans.  Student loans must be paid back, and are usually not subject to things like bankruptcy.  Remember that a loan is a product that is being sold to you, it is not free money.  You will have to pay interest on the money you borrow and there are different stipulations on each loan regarding repayment, interest and hardship.  Make sure you fully understand the loan process and the loan that you are accepting before you sign anything.

Trade School is Possible

Trade school is a possibility for anyone who is interested in attending.  Talk to the financial aide counselor of the school you are interested in attending. They will walk you through the FAFSA application and help you apply for any school sponsored scholarships that are you are eligible for.  Talk to trade associations, Google your favorite company and check with the union associated with your trade.    If you still find yourself short of cash, student loans may be available to you or you may qualify for an apprenticeship or work study program.

Today this country has a big skilled trades gap.  Companies need skilled workers and they are willing to help people interested in working for them acquire those skills.

Launching a career as a telecommunications technician

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What is a Telecommunications Technician?

Many have heard of the telecommunications industry, but what does a telecommunications technician do for a living?  A telecommunications technician can wear many different hats.  This type of person works on construction sites pulling cable for data drops, mounts cameras, and installs access control for card readers.  Others in this field work from cellular phone towers or route and terminate fiber optics cabling.  Some may work for local phone, internet, and cable television providers, showing up at your home for installations throughout the day.

Telecommunications technician training

Training opportunities in the telecommunications industry are widely available for those who know where to look.  Both union and nonunion electrical contractors offer a combination of excellent on-the-job training and instructional classroom education for new employees looking for a career in the trades.  Apprenticeships through local area contractors typically range from three to five years depending on the diversity of training before earning the journeyman title.  Technicians who have success working in the field will eventually find themselves in supervisory and management positions, thus providing numerous chances to further their career.

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Find a local contractor

There’s a multitude of places to look for employment within the telecommunications industry.  A person doesn’t have to have years of experience to land a job in this field.  The first place a job seeker can visit is their local electrical contractor.  These contractors are in the business of building homes, offices, and high-rises for their clients and are often looking for entry level help.  An easy way of locating these contractors is by calling your union hall, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), and asking for a list of electrical contractors in your area.

Network to learn more

You can also talk with other professionals working within the telecommunications industry via online forums, social media websites and live chat rooms.  Often there’s no better advice about where to find a job in a particular industry than the advice given from a journeyman technician.  Getting to know people currently working in the career you’re pursuing will always be of value to you.  Also, there’s a wealth of information standing behind a Google query.  Be curious and look around online. You will be surprised what you can find.

The telecommunications industry is an excellent field for trade workers who value the ever-changing landscapes of computers and technology.

Makerspaces and the New Journeyman

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The world of fabrication has changed dramatically since the days of old. Technology and more approachable software systems are part of it, but what’s truly moving things forward is the method of training.

While traditional journeyman programs and on-the-job training are still around, those methods of education have often become what unpaid internships are to the white-collar workplace. Some of the challenges that companies have experienced hiring qualified candidates can also be attributed to this.

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Vocational and tech schools have grown and helped to change the landscape, but the growing popularity of community makerspaces are helping as well.

Makerspaces are intended to provide access to expensive or complicated tools and software – like CNC machines or 3D printers – for those who can’t afford or don’t have the space for such equipment. As more of these spaces have popped up, they began to compete with each other, precipitating a need for added value. So, the spaces started to expand to beginners and provide classes and on-site knowhow.

For obvious reasons, this has driven a need for makerspaces to train their employees and/or members in an array of fabrication techniques, often even paying for members to be professionally trained at a tech college (sound familiar?).

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This is ushering in a new era of training and journeyman-style education.

This new style of training is also set apart because it almost forces a diversified experience. Makerspaces are full of several different kinds of equipment, which can often be in various states of disarray. Working with fabrication machinery in these sorts of conditions can be incredibly frustrating in a workplace environment (where time is money), but in a makerspace, these circumstances provide a prime learning atmosphere.

While the education provided in a makerspace might (for now) be informal, it is truly a hands-on experience which requires both trades knowledge and refined problem solving skills on various fronts. Education in a makerspace is still a growing trend, but it is most certainly growing fast.

How To Become a Certified Welding Inspector

The American Welding Society (AWS) has many different types of certifications for welding professionals.  While all AWS certifications carry the organizations endorsement, the Certified Welding Inspector (CWI) certification is arguably their most popular and desired credential.  I recently received my CWI certification, and I would like to use my experience in attaining this certification to layout in a simple manner what it takes to become a Certified Welding Inspector.  The three main components to becoming an AWS CWI are satisfying the prerequisites, studying for the exam, and passing the exam.AWS Logo

Prerequisites

As with most credentials in life, there are several prerequisites that need to be satisfied before you can obtain your CWI.  The first worth noting is the required combination of work experience and education.  There are several different combinations that meet the demands of the American Welding Society.  You must also be able to pass a vision acuity test.

Studying for the Exam

The amount of studying that I recommend for the CWI exam really varies from person to person.  Coming from a 4 year formal college education in welding engineering technology, my studying was pretty relaxed.  However, if you have a limited knowledge of welding, particularly welding symbols, weld examination, and weld qualification, you may want to put in more effort.  For self-study, there are a variety of books that the AWS recommends.

If you aren’t feeling so sure of yourself, the AWS also provides a seminar the week before you take your exam.  This covers all parts of the exam and includes all of the study materials you need.  This seminar week is quite popular, and I hear it substantially improves the test taker’s chances of passing.  Be aware, though, that it comes with a hefty price tag.

The CWI Exam

I have heard of some pretty high fail rates for this exam.  I won’t pretend that I know the exact numbers, but I will say that roughly half of the people I took the exam with were there to retake a section.  There are three sections, all multiple choice, and you are allowed two hours for each one.  They are:

  • Part A: Fundamentals Examination
  • Part B: Practical Examination
  • Part C: Code Book Examination

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Overall, with breaks, I was at the exam site for just about 10 hours.  You do not take the test in any set order.  You could, for instance, start with Part C.  Once the exam is finished, you walk out without knowing your results.  My results were back to me in a little less than two weeks time. 
If you receive a 72% or above for each section, congratulations! You passed!  If received an average of 72% or above, but received below a 72% on an individual section, you have to retake that section.  If you averaged below a 72%, you have to take the exam again.

The AWS provides a variety of testing sites and times to take your CWI exam, so get studying!  Good luck!

Technical Employment Training’s Bill Clarke on Tailoring Training to Students

While most skilled trade schools follow a familiar model of education over two years on the September to May schedule, Technical Employment Training (TET) in San Bernardino, CA has charted its own course. The school trains students to achieve certifications in high-demand skill areas over six months. We spoke with Bill Clarke of TET to hear about how he does it.

Bill Clarke and TET Staff

The TET course first provides general knowledge while evaluating what specific skill area a student is best suited for.

“We provide two certifications. One is in quality control and math, so they understand some basic concepts of what they’re doing,” Clark explains. “The second credential is in a specific skill set. We look at their learning style, and say, ‘you know what, this individual would be good as a kinesthetic learner, good with their hands.’ Therefore, they might be able to run a conventional lathe, and they test in that skill set to give them certification. Then we put them to work in that skill set.”

A core part of the TET course is a 120-hour internship at a local shop. Often this can lead directly into a first job.

“The goal now is to have them finish their first certification two months into the program before they go into their 120 hour internship,” says Clark. “If it’s a good fit, we will train the student in the skill set that best fits with the company.”

Guiding students to a specific skill set that works with the student’s natural strengths is a key element of what TET does. Therefore, early student evaluation is critical:

“We give students curriculum that’s all interactive driven. We can actually look at what they’re performing better in compare to other units of instruction that they’re getting. Then we start putting the strength into that area and making the recommendation that they get their national credential in the skill set they best perform in.”

Clark believes this is a key ingredient to what sets TET apart:

“This is something that’s not being done at any normal trade school. And we don’t take a lot of people, I probably train roughly 120 in a year in my manufacturing and probably 60 in my construction skill set. My instructional cost is about $8000 a person, that’s what I get to train a person in 630 hours with two federal certifications.”

TET’s program is partly a response to the realities of education and the economy. While a Bachelor’s degree may have once guaranteed employment, that is no longer the case.

“Without skills, we become non-productive in society,” Clark observes. “We have PhDs that are working at Starbucks. When school loans come due, I don’t have to tell you what that’s all about.”

The skilled trades gap is only widening as the baby boom generation hits retirement age.

“Every industry I deal with has a lot of personnel between 50 and 70, and they’re all leaving.”

As a result, many companies are looking to other countries for their workers. To this issue, Clark has a long-term solution: start them early.

“We have found that if you don’t get a person engaged with technology at an early age, parents don’t really encourage that going forward. We’re starting early. We’re starting in second grade. Schools have been very very receptive.”

Solving the skilled trades gap will take a variety of approaches. TET’s accelerated model gets workers educated and into jobs at an efficient clip. With a huge demand for skilled workers, this is an excellent time for outside-the-box thinking on educating tomorrow’s skilled workers.

4 Ways Employers Can Become All Stars with Local Trade Schools

Manufacturing Tech Example

When employers and skilled trade schools have a healthy relationship, everyone benefits. Employers hire trade school students, but they’re also vital to designing curriculum, staying on top of industry trends, demonstrating pathways to students, and donating materials.

Yet — in our survey, we found it was often unclear to employers how they should get involved with their local trade schools. In fact, some employers confessed they didn’t always know local trade schools were operating in their area.

Here are four ways employers can best work with trade schools.

1. Get Involved Early

“Unfortunately, [some employers] think if they call in April that they can hire their May graduates,” says Olaf Wick of Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College. “You need to start in October, courting, to have any luck filling positions.”

Most important – get involved early in the school year, not just in May. By having a few touches in the fall semester, schools and employers will be primed for a fruitful Spring. A great way to do this is to facilitate shop visits for students. Shop visits get the ball rolling on student-employer relationships and increase student buy-in by showing them what they are working towards.

“[Employers] are all getting smart: they call early,” adds Barry Knight at Rogers Heritage High School in Arkansas.

2. Hire Part Time

Hiring students part-time benefits everyone. Students get real-world experience to complement their classroom learning, and employers get a good sense for whether that student’s a fit for their shop well before making a full-time commitment. Many students need to work to make ends meet anyway, and so part-time work at a shop creates an ideal situation for them.

“What works is employers who hire part-time,” says Wick. “They can take a look and see how they work. Students can see what it’s like. Most are employable after their 1st semester.”

3. Donate

Many schools function at the limits of their budget and can use all the help they can get with additional materials and equipment. Employers can alleviate this pain by donating equipment, materials and funds — just make sure it’s the current equipment, not the old stuff you’re not using anymore.

“I get a $5K budget for materials, which essentially covers the disposable things. I spent close to $70K, because I got $65K in sponsorships, grants, etc,” says Instructor Luke Becker of Braham High School in Minnesota.

4. Join the industry board

Every school has a board of advisors from local industry. This board often meets just twice a year, but these meetings are crucial to designing curriculum that’s up-to-date with today’s industry needs. Ever hear an employer complain that today’s graduates just don’t have the skills they need? Tell that employer to get on their local trade school’s industry board. That’s where these decisions are made.

4 Ways Employers Can Become All Stars with Local Trade Schools

Manufacturing Tech Example

When employers and skilled trade schools have a healthy relationship, everyone benefits. Employers hire trade school students, but they’re also vital to designing curriculum, staying on top of industry trends, demonstrating pathways to students, and donating materials.

Yet — in our survey, we found it was often unclear to employers how they should get involved with their local trade schools. In fact, some employers confessed they didn’t always know local trade schools were operating in their area.

Here are four ways employers can best work with trade schools.

1. Get Involved Early

“Unfortunately, [some employers] think if they call in April that they can hire their May graduates,” says Olaf Wick of Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College. “You need to start in October, courting, to have any luck filling positions.”

Most important – get involved early in the school year, not just in May. By having a few touches in the fall semester, schools and employers will be primed for a fruitful Spring. A great way to do this is to facilitate shop visits for students. Shop visits get the ball rolling on student-employer relationships and increase student buy-in by showing them what they are working towards.

“[Employers] are all getting smart: they call early,” adds Barry Knight at Rogers Heritage High School in Arkansas.

2. Hire Part Time

Hiring students part-time benefits everyone. Students get real-world experience to complement their classroom learning, and employers get a good sense for whether that student’s a fit for their shop well before making a full-time commitment. Many students need to work to make ends meet anyway, and so part-time work at a shop creates an ideal situation for them.

“What works is employers who hire part-time,” says Wick. “They can take a look and see how they work. Students can see what it’s like. Most are employable after their 1st semester.”

3. Donate

Many schools function at the limits of their budget and can use all the help they can get with additional materials and equipment. Employers can alleviate this pain by donating equipment, materials and funds — just make sure it’s the current equipment, not the old stuff you’re not using anymore.

“I get a $5K budget for materials, which essentially covers the disposable things. I spent close to $70K, because I got $65K in sponsorships, grants, etc,” says Instructor Luke Becker of Braham High School in Minnesota.

4. Join the industry board

Every school has a board of advisors from local industry. This board often meets just twice a year, but these meetings are crucial to designing curriculum that’s up-to-date with today’s industry needs. Ever hear an employer complain that today’s graduates just don’t have the skills they need? Tell that employer to get on their local trade school’s industry board. That’s where these decisions are made.

Alumni Relations are Vital for Skilled Trade Training

Female machinist soon to be alumni

Once a student graduates a trade program, the school’s responsibility toward them is largely over, but that doesn’t mean the relationship should end. Alumni are one of the most underutilized, but vital resources in  skilled trade training . Staying in touch takes effort, but good alumni relations are a huge asset to a school and its students.

To have a healthy alumni network, the first step is to keep up-to-date info on them. This includes the basics–name, address, email, phone–but also where they work and the roles they hold. An online database, whether it’s Google Drive, Dropbox or something similar, makes that easier. Additionally, it’s important to periodically check with alumni on where they are and what they’re doing. Email and a Google Form are efficient ways to collect this information at once, but some will require extra effort.

“We get all their info before they graduate, and follow up with them to find their placement,” says Lisa Wixo, Student Success Coordinator at North Dakota State College of Science. “We call if they don’t answer their emails.”

It’s difficult to overstate how much alumni can do for a school. They make natural contacts at area companies, which helps facilitate job links and site visits. They can also act as mentors for students who want to get a better sense of day-to-day life in a given field. For those who move into a hiring role, they make an ideal hiring partner for the school. This can create a virtuous cycle of alumni helping future cohorts.

“I see [alumni relations] as extremely valuable,” says Doug Bowman, HTEC Director at Vincennes University. “In terms of marketing our program they’re our best marketers- a lot of our new students come from word of mouth through our graduates…. Since we have been doing this for a long time, our graduates are now in a position where they’re hiring new graduates or sending new students to the program.”

All of this is much easier when your students and alumni feel a natural connection to the school. Gatherings every six months can go a long way toward making the school feel like a community. These don’t have to be fancy affairs–just bring people together for a night they’ll actually enjoy. Larger schools should consider electing a coordinator from each cohort to help facilitate these meetings.

Creating a strong alumni network involves an initial investment, but the rewards are well worth it. Even if you don’t see immediate results from the time and money it takes to strengthen alumni connections, know that increasing the level of contact your school has with alumni can only pay dividends down the road.

Alumni Relations are Vital for Skilled Trade Training

Female machinist soon to be alumni

Once a student graduates a trade program, the school’s responsibility toward them is largely over, but that doesn’t mean the relationship should end. Alumni are one of the most underutilized, but vital resources in  skilled trade training . Staying in touch takes effort, but good alumni relations are a huge asset to a school and its students.

To have a healthy alumni network, the first step is to keep up-to-date info on them. This includes the basics–name, address, email, phone–but also where they work and the roles they hold. An online database, whether it’s Google Drive, Dropbox or something similar, makes that easier. Additionally, it’s important to periodically check with alumni on where they are and what they’re doing. Email and a Google Form are efficient ways to collect this information at once, but some will require extra effort.

“We get all their info before they graduate, and follow up with them to find their placement,” says Lisa Wixo, Student Success Coordinator at North Dakota State College of Science. “We call if they don’t answer their emails.”

It’s difficult to overstate how much alumni can do for a school. They make natural contacts at area companies, which helps facilitate job links and site visits. They can also act as mentors for students who want to get a better sense of day-to-day life in a given field. For those who move into a hiring role, they make an ideal hiring partner for the school. This can create a virtuous cycle of alumni helping future cohorts.

“I see [alumni relations] as extremely valuable,” says Doug Bowman, HTEC Director at Vincennes University. “In terms of marketing our program they’re our best marketers- a lot of our new students come from word of mouth through our graduates…. Since we have been doing this for a long time, our graduates are now in a position where they’re hiring new graduates or sending new students to the program.”

All of this is much easier when your students and alumni feel a natural connection to the school. Gatherings every six months can go a long way toward making the school feel like a community. These don’t have to be fancy affairs–just bring people together for a night they’ll actually enjoy. Larger schools should consider electing a coordinator from each cohort to help facilitate these meetings.

Creating a strong alumni network involves an initial investment, but the rewards are well worth it. Even if you don’t see immediate results from the time and money it takes to strengthen alumni connections, know that increasing the level of contact your school has with alumni can only pay dividends down the road.

Staying in Touch with Industry Contacts

Industry Connections at Lansing Factory

Good industry contacts are the lifeblood of a good skilled trade training program and having a method for managing contacts is the only sure way to keep those systems fresh. The best programs combine a consistent human touch with a system to keep track of contacts and not let potentially valuable connections fall by the wayside. In this post, we will explore some methods we found in our survey of training programs for keeping in touch with employers and alumni.

There are certain benchmarks a school can use to evaluate their outreach. One staff member devoted to outreach for every 50 students is a good rule of thumb. Fewer than that tends to overburden what outreach staff a school does have, and makes it difficult for them to give each connection their due. While email newsletters help to stay in touch, personalized conversations are what really drive initial relationships. Ongoing two-way conversations keep schools up to date on industry needs while keeping companies up to date on relevant school updates. This allows a school to become the solution to an industry’s needs.

“I bet we visited with one or two businesses a week that were desperate because they couldn’t find a diesel tech, says Debra Shephard of the Lake Area Technical Institute. “We developed a playbook to explain all the things that we can do to help solve this problem. You have to be responsible for the long-term solution.”

How should a school keep track of contacts and most recent touches? There are a number of tools. Two that we recommend looking into are HighRise and MailChimp so you have all of your contact information and contact in one place.

These systems have a bit of a learning curve, but the time spent getting comfortable with your contact manager will come back to you many times over. Staying organized streamlines the transition process when an outreach staff member leaves or changes positions. A good system also helps minimize growing pains when a school grows in size or just helps alleviate one of instructors many responsibilities.

“All my jobs came through contacts, personal connection even though I was union,” recalls Tim Shoemaker, an Instructor at Long Beach City College. “There’s a lot of work outside the classroom.”

A good contact management system has the huge side benefit of making it easier for schools to keep track of their alumni. Alumni are an invaluable resource for learning about employers and their needs. Those that get promoted into a hiring role become an ideal industry contact.

Any school, regardless of size or age, would do well to take a good look at their current system for keeping track of their contact ecosystem. Does this system serve your needs? If there is room for improvement, is the answer to make better use of your current system or develop a new one? Thoughtful, detailed answers to these questions can provide action steps to setting your program up for long term success.

(Oh, and WorkHands can help with all of this too — connecting your industry partners, alumni, and students all in one place. Interested? Sign up to find out more.)