Skip to content

L.A. Teens Get Paid to Learn Skilled Trades This Summer

This summer, students from across Los Angeles County will get paid while earning valuable credentials in skilled trades, such as construction, welding and solar panel installation, as part of an expanding initiative to offer students pathways to good-paying jobs in industries seeing booming demand.

Nearly 400 teens have signed up to participate at one of eight program sites in communities stretching from San Pedro to La Mirada to Canoga Park to help prepare them for the workforce – or discover a new passion. This unique exposure to skilled trades education is a partnership with leading community-based organizations, public schools and industry veterans. By using the “earn and learn” model as a basis for the program, students can earn money for themselves and their families while working towards a career.

L.A. County Skilled Trades Summers was launched by Harbor Freight Tools for Schools, the flagship program of The Smidt Foundation, to introduce teens to meaningful skilled trades careers and give them foundational skills for success well before they graduate.

High school student Nataliah Castro measures an engine while her instructor Brent Tuttle supervises as part of the LA County Skilled Trades Summers program (Photo by Ben Gibbs/Harbor Freight Tools for Schools) (Photo: Business Wire)

“Growing up, it was hard for me until in high school I discovered welding,” said Juan-Carlos Hernandez, a Mexican immigrant who won multiple high school welding competitions before graduating and starting his own welding business in Riverside. “My uncle would tell me ‘you gotta find something you like because then it won’t feel like a job anymore. It will be like a hobby, but you get paid.’ So, I just kept going.” The summer programs aim to be part of the solution to a growing problem: skilled trades professionals are retiring faster than they can be replaced, yet there are few direct pipelines to these jobs because skilled trades classes have been removed from most L.A. high schools. Today, fewer than 1 in 5 public high schools in L.A. County offer any type of skilled trades education. “We are going to hit rock bottom sooner or later where companies are not going to be able to find workers that are skilled and that will teach the new generation,” added Hernandez.

A recent report from Associated Builders and Contractors found the need to recruit over 342,000 new workers on top of normal hiring to meet demand this year alone in the United States. Another report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects there will be demand for nearly 200,000 additional skilled trades workers each year for the next ten years in areas such as plumbing, pipefitting, carpentry and electrical.

On a local basis, the summer skilled trades programs seek to help fill this gap by introducing students to skills that can lead to stable, family-supporting careers after high school graduation. “Our summer programs provide a really strong foundation in a variety of skilled trades that sets students up for success and connects them with incredible teachers and mentors,” said Belen Vargas, L.A. County Program Director at Harbor Freight Tools for Schools. “Giving students an early opportunity to explore career pathways can be – and often is – life changing.”

Julianna Espinoza, a high school senior who participated in last summer’s welding program at Port of Los Angeles High School, said access to skilled trades education in high school is particularly valuable. “This is a great opportunity,” she said. “Why wait until you get to college or outside of high school to take on this new skill when you can do it in high school and already have a head start?”

The summer programs filled up quickly and many have waiting lists, reflecting growing interest in skilled trades education. In fact, recent research showed that nearly seven in 10 Los Angeles County high school students would consider taking a skilled trades class if it were offered; and supermajorities of parents would encourage their child to take a skilled trades class, regardless of whether their child was college-bound.

The research, conducted by L.A.-based public opinion research firm EVITARUS, found students wanted the opportunity to learn about skilled trades because it could lead to finding a passion, getting internships and other early job experiences.

L.A. County Skilled Trades Summers operates at public schools and through community organizations. Program partners include the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Los Angeles Harbor, Port of Los Angeles High School, Alliance for Community Empowerment, Artesia High School, BRIDGE Housing/Jordan Downs, California Advancing Pathways for Students, Da Vinci Schools and La Mirada High School. Students will receive high-quality, hands-on instruction in advanced manufacturing, automotive technology, carpentry, construction, electrical, solar installation or welding, depending on the program site. Some program participants will earn advanced industry credentials that can lead to entry-level employment. Others will earn college credits. Some programs will include jobsite projects where they use the hands-on skills they’ve mastered.

The 2024 summer program runs from June 3 to August 16 depending on the site.

Source: Businesswire