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COVID-19 Pandemic Boosts Health of Skilled Trade School

Jan 28, 2024 | Public | 0 comments

engineers working on electrical components

As skilled trade workers prepare to retire, jobseekers can find opportunities in facilities

By Doug Carroll, Contributing Writer

Looking for silver linings to the COVID-19 pandemic? There are a few, and they include the rapid development of telemedicine, greater respect for front-line healthcare providers and increased attention to mental health issues.

You can add to the list a heightened awareness of the advantages of skilled trade schools. Demand for workers in the skilled trades is at an all-time high, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicting an average of 646,100 openings annually through 2032 because of job growth and retirements.

Mary Kelly has a front-row seat to what is happening.

“COVID blew it up,” says Kelly, president and CEO of the Phoenix-based StrataTech Education Group, which operates schools in five locations across the country. “People noticed that the people going to work during COVID were those in the trades and in healthcare.”

In July 2023, StrataTech opened the newest campus of its Tulsa Welding School in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, offering programs in welding, HVAC-R and electrical technologies, as well as a new program for electrical lineworkers.

Typically, it takes about seven months or longer at 25 hours per week for a student to complete one of StrataTech’s programs. They can expect a quick start: Those training for a welding career are welding on the second day and spend almost all their class time in the lab.

Kelly says StrataTech’s job placement rate is 90 percent or higher for graduates, adding that employers often come to campus to test students on the spot.

StrataTech also has begun a business-to-business program, in which employers such as Amazon provide and underwrite custom training. An apartment maintenance program, designed in collaboration with the city of Phoenix and using curriculum from the National Apartment Association and Arizona@Work, features paid, on-the-job training for up to eight weeks. A program advisory committee, which includes employers, analyzes data and helps StrataTech keep its job focus sharp.

StrataTech has campuses in Tulsa, Phoenix, Houston and Jacksonville, in addition to the new site in Irving, Texas, with a combined enrollment of more than 4,000. It expects to open in four or five more locations in the next five years, Kelly said.

Another factor in the surge of interest, she said, is that COVID-19 prompted young adults to re-evaluate the financial burden and time commitment of going off to college.

“The new generation is not always looking to do a four-year degree,” Kelly said. “They are asking, ‘What can I do to go to work right away that doesn’t cost me a lot of money?’”

About 25 percent of StrataTech’s students come from referrals, with a similar percentage from high school recruitment representatives. About 15 percent come from the military.

“COVID turned everything upside down, and higher education is very different now,” says Kelly, who has been with StrataTech since 2010. “The whole model has changed. There has been a lot of press about the wages and opportunities available (in the skilled trades).”

In 2022, median pay exceeded $60,000 a year for boilermakers, construction and building inspectors, electricians, elevator and escalator installers and repairers, and plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Doug Carroll is a freelance writer based in Chandler, Arizona. 


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