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Taking a different path to a career

Four-year college not the only road leading to success

Andrew Deangeles took some time away from his welding class at the Wilco Area Career Center in Romeoville to talk about his plans after graduation.

He’s off to trade school on a scholarship. In less than a year, Deangeles expects to have his first welding job for between $30 and $60 an hour. Total post-secondary education debt: $8,000.

“It gives me the skills I need to go not only into a career but the job I choose after seven months, rather than go to a four-year college and have $60,000 in debt,” Deangeles said.

Deangeles, a senior soon to graduate from Lemont High School, wasn’t going to go to college anyway.

But going to trade school rather than four years in college can be a lucrative career choice for many high school graduates, said Neal Kaufman, coordinator for the Three Rivers Education for Employment System.

Joliet-based TREES is a state-certified provider of professional development programs aimed at improving career and technical education at high schools and career centers such as Wilco.

“Teachers and counselors many times don’t understand the opportunities kids have if they don’t go to college,” Kaufman said.

Welders and other workers with technical skills are in high demand, Kaufman said, and young people can develop those skills as union apprentices without paying for the education. Many manufacturers pay the costs of community college for a student training to work at their plants.

“We’re talking about jobs that pay $40 to $50 an hour once you’re a journeyman with three years in manufacturing,” Kaufman said.

To get that message across, TREES next month will take high school teachers and counselors on visits to training facilities for International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers 176.

Unions and employers are looking for younger workers to enter the skilled trades in part because of the number of openings being created as baby boomers retire, Kaufman said.

Formerly a recruiting director for Exelon Nuclear, Kaufman said the trend toward four-year degrees and away from the skilled trades has been developing for years.

“I found degreed engineers were a lot easier to get than a skilled technician who could fix things in your plant,” he said.

Elizabeth Kaufman (no relation to Neal), executive director at Wilco, said attitudes about trade schools and other alternatives to four-year college degrees are only beginning to change.

“Part of what we’re trying to explain to students and parents and educators is that students have multiple pathways in education, and we have to honor those,” Kaufman said.

Leslie Alonso, a senior at Plainfield East High School who studied criminal justice at Wilco, joined the National Guard in March, and she plans to stay for six years before enrolling in Western Illinois University to study criminal justice in college.

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