Youthentity column: Making it to the middle class
There is a lot of talk these days about the middle class disappearing.
Generally, the middle class is defined by Pew Research Center as household incomes that are 67% to 200% of the national median income, or $41,119 to $122,744 annually.
According to the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, a “high wage” job in Garfield County provides an income of $58,500 to $96,500 per year.
I am sure we can all agree that our valley is an expensive place to live, a condition often viewed as a tradeoff for the surrounding natural beauty and abundant opportunity for adventure.
The high cost of living in the valley combined with rising student debt made me wonder: What low-cost professional educational opportunities exist right here in the valley, and can lead to a higher-wage career at a young age? As well, how can valley youth participate?
In planning the launch of the Youthentity Career Academy’s Structural Design & Building Industry track for high school students (a program that allows selected students to explore the many jobs and careers within the building industry), we connected with the Independent Electrical Contractors Association (IECA) chapter in Glenwood Springs.
As part of Career Academy, our program’s goal is to provide hands-on exposure to as many careers as possible within this industry, electrical being one of those career options.
Through the IECA chapter, we learned that the state of Colorado allows high school graduates to become employed right away in the field as an electrical apprentice while simultaneously completing coursework to become a journeyman electrician.
In order to take the license exam, an apprentice must have a combination of 8,000 hours of on-the-job training and at least 288 hours of classroom training for a total of four years of apprenticeship experience.
Electrical apprentices work for a local company training under a journeyman and earn around $35,000 per year; however, upon passing the state licensure exam, earnings jump to around $64,000 annually after only a four-year investment of paid work experience and classwork.
A certificate program or associate degree typically runs between $1,000 to $11,000 — a great return on investment.
One thing we have learned working with teens: It’s difficult for them to determine their career interests unless they can gain direct perspective and teachings from industry professionals.
As part of our Structural Design & Building Industry Career Academy track, students attend classes at the IECA in order to obtain their pre-apprenticeship certificate.
This means those who want to continue to become an electrician have a head start and the ability to make this career decision based on knowledge and experience; for those who do not, they still have useful knowledge of this important specialty within the construction industry.
In May, our Career Academy program participants will graduate with their pre-apprenticeship certificates alongside the adult students of the ICEA at the Hotel Colorado. Not only will it be a lesson in hard working paying off to achieve a goal, they’ll also gain a unique perspective on available paths to success.
We not only hope that this will help our students achieve a comfortable life in our country’s middle class, but will also encourage others to look at apprenticeships in the trades — as well as other low-cost investment certifications with relatively high payoffs — as a smart investment for a secure future.
Kirsten Petre McDaniel is executive director of Youthentity.
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Western Garfield County teacher earns an award for her work in the classroom.