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Talk to kids early about career training

One vocational class can change a kid's life.

I read with great interest your article "HVAC program at Dulaney High introduces students to a thriving trade" (Dec. 21). While the outlook for HVAC careers is growing in Maryland, so is interest in other skilled trades, including automotive technology, drafting, cosmetology and the graphic arts. Students are excited about career and technical education (CTE) because many have grown up in a DIY culture where they like to learn in informal, shared learning environments.

While everyone can benefit from education, the fun stops when students pay a heavy price for wanting to learn. Our nation's student-loan debt crisis has crossed the $1.2 trillion mark. Through CTE programs like the HVAC program at Dulaney High School, students can avoid loan debt, develop hands-on skills and earn an industry credential while discovering a career passion.

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College is a wonderful option for many, but an expensive degree doesn't necessarily lead to a high-paying job or a career you love. CTE shines a light on affordable and rapid career paths that lead to good-paying jobs such as HVAC (average income of $45,000 per year or higher, according to Occupational Outlook Handbook), licensed practical nursing (average income of $43,000 per year) or welding ($36,000 to $100,000 per year depending upon training and experience). Programs at public high schools and community colleges — along with programs like SkillsUSA that give students an opportunity to practice personal and workplace skills to complement their technical skills — can help fill our nation's growing skills gap.

I would encourage parents, teachers, guidance counselors and school administrators to talk to all students about careers starting in middle school or sooner. One career and technical class in an area that interests you may lead to a meaningful career.

Tim Lawrence, Leesburg, Va.

The writer is executive director of SkillsUSA.

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