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Philadelphia CTE instructor Mark Brown Hopes His Plumbing Program is ‘a Beacon of Hope’

three images of Mark Brown teaching his plumbing program

For career technical education teacher Mark Brown, his job goes beyond being a high school educator.

“My role is to not just be a career technical education teacher, a plumbing instructor. But to be a beacon of hope,” he says.

He teaches the plumbing program at Mastbaum High School in Philadelphia's Kensington neighborhood, which Brown says is “arguably the toughest area in the country” because of the high rates of substance abuse, particularly with opioids.

Right now, the school’s plumbing program, one of 11 offered at the high school, is small, but Brown hopes to help it grow. He went to the high school after his former trade school instructor, Evin Jarrett, who teaches a skilled trades program at Mayfair Elementary School in Philly, recommended him for the job. Now he works to introduce the skilled trades to students at a crucial point in their lives.

“I believe students should be exposed to the trades at a grade-school level,” Brown says. A program like this allows them to experience what the trades are like early. Not only do they learn tangible skills they can walk away with, but the program can also expose them to different aspects of the trade and its benefits.  

Telling students about the skilled trades early could help an industry that is facing a stark career shortage. The U.S. is expected to be 550,000 plumbers short in 2027, Bloomberg reported. 

“There are so many people in our country who struggle with finding a suitable career path for them, and I believe it's due to lack of exposure to career choices such as plumbing, HVAC, carpentry [and] electrical,” he adds. 2023 graduate Angelo Fernandez started in the plumbing shop and decided to cross-train in welding, something that most students don’t do. Being a teen father mobilized him to show up and succeed in school to support his child’s future — yet another way he defied the odds, as teen dads are less likely to graduate than their peers. 

After graduating, Fernandez had many job opportunities, ultimately deciding to work in welding after accepting a job at Holtec International. Right out of high school, the job offered $18 per hour with benefits and a pension.

“As a student who went through the program, Mr. Brown was very helpful in helping [me] complete the goals I have set for myself [and] to challenge myself to be a better student,” Fernandez said.

Read More: 5 Reasons a Skilled Trade Job Should Be Your Next Career Move 

Brown also found his way to the trades as a young adult. When he was 23, he remodeled houses, doing a lot of the job duties that general contractors and plumbers did. This led him to pursue plumbing as his primary trade seven years ago. As someone who’s been through trade school and has a decade of experience under his belt, Brown knows there’s a lot to gain from the skilled trades but knows it’s a big choice to make. Yet, he encourages young people to give it a try.

“If you feel like it's a good career choice for you, learn and grow,” he says. “Network and build connections with other people, especially those plumbers who have more experience than you. And lastly, demonstrate good character, be professional, and the rest will be history.”                             

Read Next: Trade School vs. College: Here’s What You Need to Consider