August 23, 2019
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Ignore the stigma of ‘blue collar’ work. Skilled trades still provide path to success.

Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Maybe as a parent you think that when it comes to success it's college or bust. But skilled trades still provide good earnings and opportunities for advancement.

As parents, maybe you dream of sending your kid to college because you think it’s a ticket to a good job. Or perhaps your idea of “blue collar” work is a job with low pay and limited opportunity.

Times have changed, and so has the economy. It’s important that we all shift our way of thinking, for our children’s sake.

I am the fleet manager for PepsiCo Inc., responsible for its facility in Bangor along with those in Auburn and Presque Isle. What our company needs is more trained, skilled automotive and diesel technicians. We’re talking high-tech careers with middle-class earnings, good benefits and opportunities for advancement.

Unfortunately, outdated stereotypes and stigmas persist against these jobs and others in the skilled trades. Too often, school counselors subtly discourage students from considering these careers. Too many parents believe that when it comes to success it’s “college or bust.”

That’s why we’re taking this problem head-on. In recent days, we signed and sent a letter to middle- and high school principals across Maine. Our plea was simple: Open your eyes and your students’ eyes to quality careers in the skilled trades.

Nationwide, there are millions of jobs available in the skilled trades — jobs that require skills but not necessarily a two- or four-year degree.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has more than tripled its 2014 estimate for the number of “new entrant” transportation technicians necessary to meet industry demand. Between now and 2026, the transportation industry will require, on average, approximately 76,000 new automotive technicians, 28,000 diesel technicians and 17,000 collision repair technicians each year to fill new positions in the industry or replace technicians who leave the occupation because of retirement or other reasons, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Maine Department of Labor estimates automotive service technicians will be among the top high wage, in-demand jobs statewide through 2024 and rank it second in the state among jobs that require post-secondary education but less than a bachelor’s degree.

Many of these jobs may surprise you. For example, cars today average 70 computers and 100 million lines of code, so it’s little wonder our technicians spend as much time doing digital diagnostics as they do under the hood. Best of all, these are jobs that pay well and offer opportunities to build rewarding careers. In an era when many college grads struggle to find work, young people working as skilled technicians can make a great living.

No one is more influential in your child’s life than you, as a parent. Do they love taking things apart and putting them back together? Are they excelling in the sciences, technology, engineering and math? Do they learn by doing?

Encourage their interests. There are online resources to learn more, such as that offers a test for students to see what kind of learner they are and information on careers in the transportation sector.

Like you, we want your child and all of Maine students to find success and fulfilling careers.

Kevin J. Willis is the supply chain fleet manager for PepsiCo Inc.

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