Handyman: Vo-tech programs offer career paths

Glenn Haege
Special to The Detroit News

As we celebrate Labor Day on Monday, it reminds me of all the skilled laborers who have built and maintain the infrastructure of our society. But with the push to have everyone get a four-year college degree, many young people haven’t even thought about going into a skilled trade career, even though the job demand for many of these types of jobs is steady or growing.

“Skilled labor training is not pushed by the schools these days as it was in the past, but students who graduate from our HVAC or electrical programs can make good pay after a few years,” said Les Pullins, the associate director of skilled trades for Dorsey Schools.

Pullins said that Dorsey offers a 9 month HVAC Systems Technician Training Program that features nine classes that focus on all aspects of heating, ventilation, refrigeration and air conditioning. The program also has an externship component allowing students to apply knowledge from the classroom in a practical setting while gaining industry experience.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers is projected to grow 14 percent from 2014 to 2024, which is much faster than the average for all occupations.

He said the Electrical Technician Training Program is a one year program with 15 classes, and graduates master skills needed to seek employment in industrial, residential, construction, commercial, municipal, or utilities settings to install, repair, replace, or maintain a variety of electrical wiring, fixtures and system equipment.

The state of Michigan provides targeted funding that lets community colleges purchase state-of-the-art equipment to enhance educational programs in high-wage, high-skill, and high-demand occupations.

A total of $50 million was provided to 18 community colleges across the state last year as part of the new Community College Skilled Trades Equipment Program, an effort to build capacity and meet the training demand for good-paying jobs in skilled trades.

The traditional vocational training has also become part of the curriculum at many community colleges. For example, Schoolcraft College in Livonia ( offers certificate and associate degree programs in a variety of manufacturing and technology areas, such as electronic technology, mechatronics, plastic technology and welding technology. Macomb Community College ( offers such vocational-focused programs as climate control technology and maintenance technology. Other area community colleges, such as Henry Ford Community College ( and Oakland Community College ( also offer similar types of programs.

There are also union and nonunion apprentice training programs offered throughout Michigan in conjunction with technical schools, builder associations and trade associations. A popular trade program is the carpenter’s apprenticeship offered by the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights, (313) 832-3887, The Associated Builders and Contractors or Michigan, (517) 853-2545,, also offers apprenticeship programs for the trades.

“As older skilled trades people retire, there are going to be plenty of opportunities for young people to have a good-paying career for life, but unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be as much interest in these types of jobs as in the past,” said Mike Bratcher of Bratcher Electric, (734) 722-0037,

Bratcher said anyone who likes to works with their hands would be a good candidate for a skilled trades’ job like an electrician, and these careers have some added benefits.

“When you are doing these skilled trades jobs, no two projects are alike, so there is a lot of variety,” he said. “There is also the added advantage of not starting a career with huge college loan debt because when you are doing an apprenticeship you actually get paid to learn.”

The importance of those involved in the skilled trades is also the focus of Irwin Tools and their National Tradesmen Day ( on Sept. 16. Since 2011, the company has promoted the importance of tradesmen and tradeswomen by focusing the nation’s attention on “The Hands That Build America” and will include celebrations, recognition events and activities throughout the country.

For more home improvement advice, call “The Handyman Show With Glenn Haege” on WJR-AM (760) at (866) ASK GLENN, (866) 275-4536 between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday. “The Handyman Show” can also be heard on more than 135 radio stations nationwide.