In Fort Lauderdale and around the country, there’s an increasingly desperate demand forskilled tradespeople.

Broward County Commissioner Steven Geller regularly meets with business and education leaders, as well as families, to find ways to “reinforce the importance of shop class.”

“I believe one of the greatest problems of the United States is the hollowing out of the middle class,” Geller says. “I’ve been pushing for what I call ‘mid-skill’ jobs creation. Think about it; without welders, masonry, electricians, and maritime technicians, entire industries would collapse.”

James Payne of Broward County Public Schools says there’s a big push to inform parents and students in middle and high school about the district’s vast vocational education opportunities. Last summer, Broward Schools piloted a six-week, paid internship program in the construction industry. Thirteen junior-level students got hands-on experience working at the school’s facilities. They learned from electricians, plumbers and carpenters, with the goal that they would continue on to technical career colleges. There’s also a partnership with three technical area colleges that offer dual-enrollment programs for high school students – and tuition fees are waived.

“It’s a huge head start,” says Payne, who works as curriculum supervisor for career, technical, adult and community education. “Most people don’t realize that some of these industries exist, and how big they are.”

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