COLORADO — As many Coloradans are heading back to school, more people are choosing the route of trade schools and apprenticeship programs.
Student enrollment numbers for trade industries are up nationwide, including a 19.3% increase for construction majors and a 28.9% increase for transportation and materials moving majors.
The trend remains consistent in Colorado at a time when skilled trade workers are needed more than ever after the pandemic.
The Southern Colorado Chapter of Independent Electrical Contractors (IEC) trains students to become electricians through their apprenticeship program. Dale Weis, the executive director, said their program has seen an increase in enrollment. Weis said last year around 300 students were enrolled in their apprenticeship program, but they'll easily hit 400 students this year.
"There's such a demand. The construction in our area is booming right now. So, we need more apprentice electricians, you know, coming in and getting the training that they need to be able to find that career path for them," he said.
Tony Gutierrez graduated from the IEC program in 2010. He's now the owner of an electrical company and is also an instructor for students at the Southern Colorado chapter's program. Gutierrez said the low cost of the program was a huge incentive for him.
"The biggest thing is, I had no debt when I was done. So when I graduated, no debt, and get paid as a license. So it was great," he said.
Now as a business owner who hires electricians, he understands the high demand for skilled workers like him.
"As much as our city is growing, as much as you know, the state is growing, there's building going on everywhere. We need the bodies, we need the able-bodied individuals to fill these roles," he said.
Weis said that the high demand for skilled trade workers makes the job search for graduates simple.
"We have a job board on our website that our contractor members have access to. We have very few apprentices on that job board because there's such a demand right now for apprentices and even journeyman electricians in the field," he said.
Weis said he's seen a growing recognition for trade skill workers in the past five years, especially since the pandemic when many of those workers were considered essential.
During the pandemic in 2020, there was a nationwide decrease in new apprentices by 12% compared to 2019 numbers. In Colorado, there was a 17% decrease in new apprentices during that same time.
According to the National Student Clearinghouse, student enrollment this year for trade programs in the agriculture industry increased by 40%, construction saw a 17% increase, and the transportation industry by 13.7%.
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