When we’re little, we all dream about what we’ll be when we grow up.

Some of us dream of being astronauts; others hope they’ll be president. As a little girl, I may have truly believed being a mama was a paid occupation but unfortunately, I grew up and discovered I better pursue something that can pay my bills first.

So today I sit at my desk — which is covered in a tornado of sticky notes with very important things I swear I’ll get to one of these days, along with an empty Dr. Pepper bottle, some ibuprofen and a brand spanking new planner I’ve cracked open only a couple times — behind my cluttered desktop computer screen as a journalist, designer and a leader. I somehow found all the things I love and landed a career doing just that — writing, being a little artsy and creative and working with people. 

Thursday morning Benjamin Russell held a career fair for its students and they had the opportunity to learn about all sorts of careers. They learned about both trade and college-degree careers. 

Before they know it, seniors will be walking across a stage with their diplomas. They’re no longer dreaming of what they want to be; they’re deciding. 

When I was a high school senior, I thought I was destined to be a preschool teacher. That’s what I set out to be and I didn’t think too much else about it.

Once I got in college, I obviously ended up changing my career path and discovered I love journalism. But before that, I didn’t really consider my options or other avenues.

I was going to the four-year college my mama graduated from — in her late 30s, might I brag — and where my stepdad teaches at, and that was that. There was no thought of attending a two-year school first or exploring a trade.

Trades weren’t in the discussion for my classmates either; some of them were considering community colleges but no one was going into plumbing, welding, carpentry, mechanics, electrical, pre-engineering, pre-nursing or anything of the sort.

Today’s students, or at least those in Tallapoosa and Elmore counties, are fortunately a lot more educated on the subject than we were. Local students have the opportunity to attend Edward Bell Career Technical Center or Elmore County Technical Center, respectively, as they complete their high school education. 

The centers give students a chance to find a talent and determine what they like to do, plus they earn certifications and applicable skills. Equipment, such as that in the welding stations at Edward Bell, gives students hands-on, real-life experience. Rooms set up exactly like hospitals allow students to learn all the numerous occupational possibilities in healthcare while earning certifications they can put to work after graduation.

The goal of these centers is to prepare students for the day they are no longer students — whether it’s right out of high school or after college. It’s not built to replace college but it certainly can. Some of the programs, such as medical science, prepare students for nursing school. But these trades allow them to be able to go straight to work after high school if they want.

I was lucky enough to see all this in action a few months ago when Tallapoosa County Schools superintendent Joe Windle took me on a tour of Edward Bell. He said some graduates are making $19 an hour after high school in these fields — without a college degree. 

The status quo has certainly made a shift and trades are the future. There will always be a demand for the careers that require college degrees; that’s not going anywhere. But there is a high demand for these trades as well, and it’s a route students should be aware of. 

Sometimes it can be a struggle to get our students interested in these programs because — despite all the progression and education — trades are still not quite the norm in today’s society, as some people still believe college is the only path to take.

It is the duty of parents and teachers to educate students on why participating in these trade centers can be so impactful for their futures. The tangible certifications are no doubt useful, but the real-life skills and experience they take home are more valuable than gold.


Santana Wood is the managing editor of Tallapoosa Publishers’ newspapers. She can be reached at santana.wood@alexcityoutlook.com

Santana Wood is the managing editor of The Outlook.