After losing his job during the pandemic and mowing lawns to make money, Joel Zelaya knew he wanted more education but not another student loan. So at age 39, he took a community college course on facility maintenance, learning the basics of HVAC repair, plumbing, carpentry, and electrical skills. He completed the course in November 2021, and by the first week of December, he had landed a job—and a significant pay raise—as an apartment facility maintenance technician in Kernersville, N.C.
The post-pandemic economic landscape may include increased interest in technical education and skilled trades. Though experts note federal data on the field is limited, many technical education programs and colleges are reporting higher enrollment even while class numbers at four-year schools are down.
Students pursuing postsecondary technical education typically receive certificates or associate degrees in applied science upon completing a program in fields ranging from robotics to healthcare to welding to plasterboard.
More people are seeing the value of technical education, especially during the interruptions of a pandemic, according to Alisha Hyslop, senior director of public policy for the Association for Career and Technical Education. “It has become very apparent, the types of jobs that are essential to keeping our country running,” Hyslop said, giving trucking as an example. “How we get goods from one place to another in our country has been under the spotlight in the last two years like never before.” She also noted, though, that the field has still suffered from the pandemic since it’s harder to move trade classes online.
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