Down by Philadelphia there’s an amazing school, Williamson College of the Trades. The buildings and campus bear a strong resemblance to Granite Ridge and it makes you wonder, could we have a similar institution right here? For a lot of reasons, it wouldn’t be easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is.
Williamson College trains students in one of six specific trades:
- Construction technology – carpentry emphasis
- Construction technology – masonry emphasis
- Construction technology – electrical emphasis
- Machine tool technology
- Power plant technology
- Horticulture, landscaping and turf management
They complement these fields with regular classroom work in mathematics, business, communications, physical science, humanities, blueprint reading and computer technology. The students graduate with an Associates degree, but it requires 3 years due to the amount of work involved.
The students are in demand
Two job fairs each year introduce students to potential employers.
As many as 120 companies, including top construction and power-plant firms, compete for the students. Boeing is hiring Williamson guys; so is the giant power company Exelon. Recruiters are on hand primarily to interview seniors, but either through the fair or shop teachers’ contacts, underclassmen can expect to find summer internships—perhaps more than one. This past summer, a masonry student worked at the historic Mount Laurel Cemetery in West Philadelphia, repairing some of the antique headstones. During the school year, Cadence Aerospace flew ten Williamson men to its Seattle headquarters to introduce them to the company and describe career opportunities.
The students often apply their skills by performing maintenance and repair on the school facilities, doing landscaping, repairing masonry on the buildings and operating and maintaining the school’s power plant.
Discipline and structure, it’s not a party school
It’s a residential institution where 19- to 22-year-old kids from hard-up families line up in ties and jackets every morning to be inspected before going to chapel and pledging allegiance to the American flag, and where anyone who violates the no-drugs-and-alcohol policy is immediately out on his ear, no exceptions.
Williamson has a military-school feel. Indeed, the school’s president for the past six years, Michael Rounds, is a West Point graduate and veteran of the 101st Airborne who served in Iraq. Students line up every morning at 7:15 to the sound of reveille as a crew of four students raises both the American and Williamson flags. At 10 PM, students are back in their dorm rooms. Beards and mustaches are forbidden. Freshmen must do kitchen patrol once a week, cleaning the dishes of staff and fellow students. If students break rules, even relatively minor ones like walking on the grass instead of the campus pathways, they find themselves working “hours” on the grounds crew on a Saturday.
Granite Ridge has a head start
Students live in dorms on campus and have the use of many facilities that are the same as you find already in place at Granite Ridge, like common areas for relaxation and socializing, a basketball court, weight room and a fully equipped cafeteria.
What does it cost?
Here’s where it gets really interesting. Right now the cost to the student is $140 plus books and supplies depending on shop! Wait, what? The actual cost is $36,640, minus a Williamson Scholarship awarded to EVERY student (includes Pell Grant and/or PA State Grant funding if applicable) of $36,500, so the remaining cost is $140 plus books and supplies used in shop.
The school’s financing comes from alumni donors who have gone on to become very successful in their own businesses plus the proceeds of the initial funding that started the school as well as various fund raising projects and a number of other generous donors.
This is where the idea of duplicating the school becomes challenging, not impossible, but it’s where some might throw up their hands and turn their attention elsewhere instead of looking at it as a model to emulate with some creative ideas. Maybe it can be started at a smaller scale with fewer trades and if the first classes work, add more trades.
How about an Income Sharing Agreement?
Student financing might also be in the form of an ISA, an Income Sharing Agreement:
In an ISA, students pay no tuition upfront, only repaying the education provider once employed, and as a fixed percentage of their earnings, or income share, during the payment term.
There are a lot of benefits to this arrangement. Obviously, the student pays nothing up front, they sign the agreement and go to school. The school gets nothing up front, they train the student and get paid back when the student gets a job, so they have a very strong incentive to keep the student engaged and learning the skills necessary to become a highly paid employee because that’s how the school gets paid. In other words, the school has “skin in the game.” No fluff courses and meaningless degrees or certificates. Real training and education leading to real jobs.
This is just one more idea – Is Granite Ridge listening?
Granite Ridge is a prime location for a school like this. The facilities already in place can be converted for use as a trade school and the need for highly skilled trade school graduates is increasing at a much faster rate than the demand for students with degrees in the humanities. Yes, there’s an initial cost, but no matter what use is envisioned for Granite Ridge, an investment will be necessary. Is this the winner? Until it’s studied further, there’s no way to know, but unless an attempt is made, we never will know. I think it’s worth a serious look, how about you?