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‘Hands-on’ diploma prepares students to fill America’s skilled labor demand

Workforce Development

by Patrick Thomas, ABC 33/40

Skilled labor in the U.S. is in high demand. Soon many will leave careers as masons, welders, and electricians for retirement.

Enter: The Academy of Craft Training, a Birmingham-based, mayor-backed high school program providing students with skills to help fill the gap.

“It’s a practical education,” said Clay-Chalkville Senior Patrick Gunn, “This wall is our classroom.”

A desk is useless for Gunn’s education. He’s earning a hands-on high school diploma.

During Thursday morning’s class, while spreading mortar on concrete Gunn exclaimed, “Whoop! There it is.”

Gunn feels adamantly confident about the future benefits of the program.

“I’m getting a good education here, learning how to do brick. That’s better than – I think that’s a little better than – going to college,” said Ross.

Employers of skilled laborers likely agree, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics announcing six million job openings in July.

Clay Mayor Charles Webster said programs like the Academy of Craft Training address the economic void.

Mayor Webster told ABC 33/40, “I think kids need to make decisions on their own. I think this right here gives them the opportunity to look at different trades.”

Not only are these young men and women working to fill demand, but within ten years time, millions of people will retire from this workforce, leaving a void only skilled labor can fill.

Welding is only part of the plan for Pelham High Senior Sabrina Ross.

Ross explained, “[Being in this field] gives me the opportunity to learn a vocational skill, as well as the opportunity to go to college to further my education.”

Ross says while working in a male-dominated field, “You have to have thick skin [and] not be intimidated. If you have a natural proclivity for hard work you will advance.”

Gunn loves the program, because he knows he’ll move forward with a job after graduation.

Marveling at the work he’s accomplished, Gunn exclaimed, “I did that! I couldn’t believe it; I still can’t believe it. I built that wall over there.”

For more information or to see the video, click here.

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