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Building UP RVA-Education in the Trades?

I recently checked out a book at the Hull Street Library in Manchester and I was impressed by the little neighborhood establishment. I’m a firm believer in being able to easily access books without paying an arm and a leg for the recent release of a new bestseller. I’m also one that hasn’t embraced ebooks but rather love the tangible feel of a book and it’s written word. The library can and should be a hub for the community that brings children and adults together under one roof. It is a place where one can find solace and education.

Speaking of education, it’s the mantra for most candidates running for mayoral office in RVA this election year. But what does education mean for our city? I agree that we need a better education system in Richmond and we need to start right now for future generations. But what about the current generation?

We all understand that education is the foundation to a person’s well-being and success in life. But education can come in many forms. We as individuals need to rethink what type of schooling is appropriate for each of us. We’ve been raised to believe that in order to achieve success, one is expected to attend a four year college upon graduation of high school. But who says it needs to be a liberal arts college? Why can’t it be a trade school where one can learn a vocation for being a carpenter, plumber, electrician, machinist, etc? This training is not being taught in your typical college system and unfortunately, we are seeing a considerable decrease in workers for these specialty jobs. It’s not being marketed either because we’ve been brainwashed to think that to be successful you need to be a doctor or a computer programmer. Not everyone is hard-wired this way and many can’t spend the tremendous amount of money to aspire to this.

The construction industry is one that has seen this first hand. The recession of 2008 brought the construction industry to a halt. Many workers left the industry and have never come back. There is an older generation of tradespeople that are now leaving the field without the younger generation to carry the torch forward. Constructing buildings has become harder and more expensive to do because of this labor shortage and lack of education in the trades. To make matters worse, owners want their buildings built in half the time than was traditionally done in the past. We are truly at an impasse.

This brings me to a Richmond Times-Dispatch article that just came out this past Thursday regarding Richmond’s poverty rate: Richmond’s poverty rate is second-highest in Virginia. The article highlights that a staggering one in four Richmonders live in poverty. That’s a brutal statistic. And poverty and education are at most times inherently linked to one another. It’s not always about “better” education but what is the appropriate education that is needed for each individual. Everyone should be able to have an education that can help sustain them and give individuals the opportunity to make life choices on their own without the continued assistance of others.

So how do we try and reduce this poverty rate for the here and now while providing opportunities for education?

The answer may lie in a program that provides the poor with preliminary training in carpentry, electrical work, plumbing, as well as many other trades. Perhaps trade focused workshops could begin at our libraries, conveniently situated in neighborhood communities within walking distance of where poverty is most rampant? Perhaps local businesses would contribute toward the cause? Developers, contractors, architects, engineers, and residents alike would all benefit by having less poverty and more skilled tradesmen. Perhaps retired, or soon to be retiring tradesmen could help teach at these workshops? Prospective employers in the trades could source promising new candidates from these classes. The most promising candidates could be given new hope, and the pride of being a part of building for RVA’s future.

It’s just one idea, and I am sure there are many out there. But all change begins with an idea. The next step of action is more difficult. But we must do something, because having one in four of us living in poverty is unacceptable. We must and can do better. And starting to educate those who cannot fully provide for themselves with skills that are in demand but short supply, seems like a reasonable place to start.

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