Column: Trades schools matter in Detroit

Brandon Brice

The Detroit Public Schools Community District has emerged from a near fiscal crisis and a heated legislative debate with a new locally elected school board. The board remains faced with the challenge of preparing students for the real world.

The district is mired in dismal achievement results, at the very bottom of the nation’s report card for years running.

Detroit students and families can’t afford to wait that long. Many have escaped to another district or to a nearby charter school, but the number of high-quality seats are limited. Redesigning its educational system to focus on preparing college-ready or career-ready graduates through skilled trade and technical programs is a key strategy that needs to be embraced.

Between 2012 and 2014, about 1,200 Detroit students signed up for trade schools, taking a class or two as part of their electives. Sadly, though, trade schools, which can bridge the gap of unfilled jobs in Detroit, now find themselves empty due to a decline in enrollment, and lack of exposure.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Detroit’s unemployment rate borders on 17-18 percent, not including people who have stopped looking for work. Further, Detroit has seen shortages over the last two decades in the areas of plumbing, welding, pipefitting and carpentry. In particular, Detroit has the nation’s highest youth unemployment rate.

In the 1970s, many Detroit high schools and trade schools offered school-to-work programs which offered graduates the option to attend a four-year college or become certified in a specific trade. As the city attempts to rebrand itself, trade schools will offer an important step for future Detroit graduates.

Detroit’s trade school curriculum matters if we want to give future Motor City workers a shot at success.

Brandon Brice is a nonprofit executive and consultant in Detroit.