This May, parents, classmates, and teachers gathered in high schools all around the country to celebrate students’ signing day. However, these students weren’t committing to NCAA athletic programs; they were committing to a career. 

Career Signing Day

Just like a sports commitment day, the students meet with representatives of their future employers to sign letters of intent at a ceremony attended by family and friends. This spring, more than 1,000 students across 33 states took part in Career Signing Day.

Brazoria County Seniors at Career Signing Day, 2022;
Brazoria County Seniors at Career Signing Day, 2022; Photo Credit Billy Loveless, Brazosport College

For example, in Brazoria County, Texas, 48 graduating seniors signed up for full-time jobs at one of the nearby chemical and petrochemical companies. This was Brazoria County’s fourth annual Career Signing Day; this year, more than twice as many students applied and were hired into full-time positions than last year.

Many of these career signing days took place on Thursday, May 5 as a part of SkillsUSA’s National Signing Day. SkillsUSA is a national nonprofit organization aimed to connect students with technical careers. As Chelle Travis, SkillsUSA’s executive director, said, “Just as we would celebrate a football player or any other athlete, we want to celebrate just as proudly our skilled tradesmen and women and their decision to pursue a career.” 

The Trade Industry

Going straight into a trade job after high school is a growing trend nationwide. Fewer students enrolled in vocational programs during the pandemic, possibly because skilled trades training doesn’t always translate as well to a virtual environment. As regulations have lifted, the enrollment and interest in trade jobs have grown.

A study by YouthTruth that polled more than 22,000 students in the class of 2022 found that 28 percent of high school seniors said their plans have changed since the start of the pandemic with fewer students interested in going to college at all. As the ECMC Group found, the likelihood of attending a four-year school sank 20 percent in the last two years—down to 51 percent from 71 percent. ECMC also found that more than one-third of high school students said they believed a career and technical education could lead them to success.

There are plenty of open jobs in specialized fields but not enough workers with the right skills to fill them. For example, the American Trucking Association estimated that the truck driver shortage hit a historic high of over 80,000 drivers in 2021. Because part of the labor shortage is due to experienced workers aging out of the field, the growing trend to go straight from high school into a trade job could save some of these trade industries and put an end to labor shortages.