The trades have historically represented a path to a living wage. That doesn’t just mean electrical work, carpentry, and plumbing. High tech and skilled sectors like solar installation, renewable-energy maintenance, and IT support are expanding rapidly. Yet few young adults are encouraged to enroll in the kinds of schools that teach those skills.

That’s the motivation behind a new pilot from the California Masonic Foundation. The Working Tools program awards graduating high school seniors grants to be used at vocational and trade schools, where they’ll gain hands-on skills that translate into well-paying jobs. The program, says Foundation president Doug Ismail, reinforces the range of career choices open to young people—and that workplace success isn’t contingent on a four-year college degree. “We decided that, philosophically, we wanted our scholarship programs to make a tangible difference in a kid’s life,” Ismail says.

The scholarship will award $1,000 per year to 21 students, identified by partner organizations, who plan to attend vocational school. In many cases, Ismail says, students who go directly into the trades aren’t eligible for financial aid, making the Working Tools among the only support available.

The new pilot adds to the Foundation’s portfolio of college scholarships, which also includes the Investment in Success program, Masonic Youth Order awards, and C.E. Towne Memorial Scholarship, given in partnership with Prince Hall Masons. Together, the Foundation issued 225 grants in 2020 totaling $550,000. Beyond the funds, Ismail says the Foundation offers students other forms of support. “We don’t just give them a scholarship. It’s a combination of program support and follow-up,” he says. “And frankly, we might be the only ones out there saying, ‘We believe in you.’”


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