February 17, 2021 – Education

Harmel Academy of the Trades marries skills-based education with humanities


Harmel Academy of the Trades marries skills-based education with humanities

There will be a shortage of 3.4 million trade workers by 2022, according to the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine. Technical education supports a robust economy, but the purpose of education goes far beyond filling an economic need. It should also unlock a student’s aptitudes and interests, empowering each person with the necessary skills to improve their life and society.

Harmel Academy of the Trades, a Catholic postsecondary education program based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, aims to fill the gap in the skilled trades workforce while allowing students to discover how they can best contribute to society. Through a values-based curriculum that helps students build practical skills while contemplating the purpose of learning and work, Harmel offers students a compelling pathway to unlock their potential.

With a $200,000 grant from the Charles Koch Foundation, Harmel will enhance and expand its program by establishing an income-share agreement that will help students finance their degree and raise enrollment. Harmel will also create partnerships with other social entrepreneurs interested in establishing similar schools.

Working against the common misperception that people working in trade and skilled jobs are not interested in the humanities, Harmel marries a robust technical program with a personalized, integrated humanities curriculum. Alongside skills workshops, students explore how work contributes to the common good, concepts around the dignity of work and workers, and the connection between a job and personal satisfaction.

The school partners with local industry to supply students with work opportunities from day one. Students “learn by doing,” earning money for tuition and gaining the experience necessary to pursue a skilled trade full time upon graduation. These opportunities will give students access to immediate job placement upon graduation. The humanities program aims to build the entrepreneurial mindset and problem-solving skills students will need to become leaders in their field of work.

With the rising costs of four-year colleges limiting access for many, Harmel offers students interested in a liberal-arts education an affordable alternative by limiting the cost of its two-year, residential program to a “living tuition” that can be paid without taking on long-term debt.

“Education should unlock a person’s potential by helping them discover their unique aptitudes and interests, develop skills, and deploy their knowledge for their own benefit and the benefit of others,” said Charles Koch Foundation Executive Director Ryan Stowers. “We’re excited to support Harmel because at the heart of its mission is a recognition of, and respect for, the dignity of all learners. Harmel graduates will leave with more than just a skillset that helps them find a job. They’ll be leaders and innovators whose principles-based thinking will create a better society for everyone.”

The Charles Koch Foundation partners with social entrepreneurs to drive societal progress through academic research and innovations that help all learners realize their potential. Read more about the Foundation’s support for education.