Tim Winkeler

With August upon us, Maine high school and college students are preparing for the fall semester.

For many of them, college will indeed be the stepping stone to a successful career after graduation. But some high schoolers aren’t sold on college, and that’s fine, too.

There are different paths to success, and employers aren’t just hiring English and sociology majors. Maine is a welcoming home for job creators and all kinds of job seekers.

For some, the best path is college. Unfortunately, for decades, the alluring idea of college has driven many people away from the vocational school path that may have been a better fit.

Every high schooler doesn’t necessarily need to attend a liberal arts college. Some people are better off pursuing a trade — becoming an electrician, plumber, chef or auto mechanic.

And there shouldn’t be a stigma associated with those careers. The state of Maine needs more tradespeople, not fewer.

There is a labor shortage in Maine, and there is virtue in making a living working with one’s hands. In today’s economy, employers are desperate to find workers. The state of Maine is now spending more than $12 million on apprenticeship programs, partnering with businesses, nonprofits and schools to promote the trades. Those careers are rewarding in more ways than one — from the experience of helping others to the financial compensation and career paths available.

Look at it this way: VIP currently operates nearly 70 stores across New England, employing about 600 people. We provide these employees with not only an income and an enjoyable work environment, but also unique opportunities to climb the career ladder. Every dollar counts, and upward career mobility allows people to invest, save and spend even more — not to mention the pride associated with earning promotions at work.

Our auto technicians experience upward mobility on a regular basis. Starting off at $16 to $19 per hour, VIP technicians can quickly increase their earnings to $50,000 or $60,000 per year. It’s possible to clear the $100,000 threshold, too, especially through classroom and hands-on training, plus industry certifications that demonstrate top-line expertise.

The trades change families and local communities for the better.

Think about how many lives will be impacted positively, and were only one company. Across Maine, countless businesses are contributing to their communities in positive ways, while guaranteeing employees and their families a steady income stream.

I urge people to not overlook the trades. We can never look down on electricians, plumbers or mechanics. To the contrary, our society depends on those hard-working people who make daily life easier. Especially with people driving more often, going on longer road trips, and looking for higher gas mileage, auto mechanics and other experts in their respective fields become truly indispensable.

As the fall semester approaches, we can celebrate Maine’s high schoolers, college students, and the recent graduates entering the workforce. At the same time, let’s celebrate the Mainers attending vocational schools and becoming the next generation of experts in the trades.

Our economy needs each and every one of them.

Tim Winkeler serves as president and CEO of VIP Tires & Service, which is based in Auburn.

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