Every month or so, a community member or parent in my high school sends me an article that talks about how schools need to spend more time investing in the trades. The latest share came from the Hechinger Report’s Matt Krupnick, who wrote about how, after decades of pushing bachelor’s degrees, the U.S. needs more tradespeople.

Krupnick went on to share how states like California are spending millions of dollars on campaigns to revive the reputation of vocational education, which includes funds targeted at redesigning career and technical education training programs.

California’s efforts are at the heart of a debate raging across our country. Trades have often had an “image” problem, being seen as a less-desirable alternative to college. This is wrong.

What does it mean to be college- and career-ready? That definition has changed with the times, and it is likely set for another big change in the years that lie ahead. For generations, the generally accepted mission among secondary educators was to prepare students for college.

For those who couldn’t reach that bar, the alternative was a vocation or trade. I’m here today as a public high school principal to tell you that we know that this strategy is wrong for today’s world. Today’s secondary schools very much want to promote trade careers as an equal path that can lead to future success for students. The problem is, our society hasn’t caught up yet with what has become our new reality.

It’s time to give trade careers the status that they deserve. To understand how and why, let’s look at the story of Tru Form Precision Manufacturing (TFPM), a Plaistow, New Hampshire, manufacturing company that I have grown very close to in recent years.

Tru Form, operating locally out of a state-of-the-art facility in the middle of town, provides machining and manufacturing solutions to clients all over the world. TFPM, like many manufacturers, struggles to attract and retain a quality workforce.

To combat this, employers like TFPM are making significant investments in public education to develop a pipeline to attract and retain high school graduates looking for opportunity in a trade career.

Jaimie Bezanson, vice president of operations for TFPM, has fostered several mutually beneficial partnerships and collaborations with our local Sanborn Regional High School. Throughout the year, Bezanson participates in the school’s career speaker program, visiting the school to talk to interested students about what a career in modern manufacturing looks like.

He invites students from Sanborn into his facility for industry tours to see firsthand how TFPM’s operation works and the critical role that employees play. For a few lucky students each year, Bezanson offers the opportunity for them to intern at TFPM and receive high school credit.

The school has a system in place with a dedicated staff member who oversees these customized and personalized extended learning opportunities (ELOs). For his efforts and his collaboration, Bezanson was recently recognized as a Community Partner Champion by the State of New Hampshire.

For Bezanson, his good will and volunteerism goes far beyond a community service endeavor. It is a dollars-and-sense strategy for him to attract and retain a quality workforce to allow him to stay competitive in the global manufacturing market. Bezanson often tells Sanborn students that the most important skills he looks for in a prospective employee are not what they may be thinking.

They do not need training with the technology or equipment they will be expected to operate, and do not need advanced post-secondary degrees or certificates right away. Those can come later.

What they need is a willingness to learn, and the ability to collaborate, communicate, and problem-solve. Bezanson needs team players who are willing to learn, and hungry for more. Once he finds the right people, the sky could be the limit for how much they could do with TFPM.

One Sanborn senior named Adam, who is just finishing his internship with TFPM, talked at length about how he enjoyed learning the ins and outs of the manufacturing business. When asked what his biggest takeaways were, he quickly replied with “communication and leadership. I learned that you have to be able to jump right into the work, and listen to your teammates who will help you along the way.”

Adam is headed to college this fall, but plans to continue working for TFPM as much as he can. Another Sanborn graduate, Chase, has chosen to work for TFPM full-time and they are helping him complete a program at a local community college that will give him an advanced manufacturing degree — a goal that just a few years ago did not seem it would be possible for this first-generation college student.

The TFPM and Sanborn model shows promise — by blending traditional high school and college courses with work-based experience, students are getting the jump-start they need towards college and career readiness.