20 Questions

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20 Questions

20 Questions with Kate Cinnamo

Executive Director of Explore the Trades

Originally published
Originally published: 7/1/2024

20 Questions with ….

Publisher Terry Tanker sat down with Kate Cinnamo, Executive Director, Explore the Trades. They discussed how to introduce students, educators and parents to the plumbing, heating, cooling and electrical trades. And how contractors, distributors and manufacturers can support the effort.

1.    You became Executive Director in 2017. What led you to the organization?

I worked in grant management and community relations in the senior healthcare and housing industry for over 10 years and was ready for a new role in a new industry. I found the position through LinkedIn, applied, and here I am.

2.    What attracted you to the opportunity to lead the organization?

It provided a career pivot that felt challenging, intimidating and interesting simultaneously. I didn’t have a background in the trades. My learning curve was extremely steep. I believe that my journey in championing these industries is completely aligned with what Explore The Trades is designed to do – which is to tell the next generation why the plumbing, heating, cooling and electrical (PHCE) trades are so important.

3.    What does Explore the Trades (ETT) do?

ETT is bridging the talent gap in the service trades, specifically PHCE. The organization has a singular focus – to bring PHCE career education and possibilities directly to students and educators through the creation and distribution of classroom and on-demand resources and an industry-to-school partnership. 

4.    How is ETT positioned? 

ETT is positioned to be a connection point between education and industry. I describe the organization as being at the starting line of the talent pipeline. Our focus is to provide PHCE information to educators and parents who are uninformed about the possibilities the trades have to offer. We want to make sure students are informed about the opportunities the trades offer by the time they graduate from high school and know how to make that jump into a career versus feeling like they have to default to college.

5.    How long ago did high schools eliminate vocational classes?

They’ve been missing for more than a generation. As a result, many just don’t know about the trades and what they have to offer. As everyone knows, we’re playing catch-up in PHCE and the skilled workforce shortage is upon us. 

6.    How receptive are educators and students? 

During my tenure at ETT, I can say with confidence that attitudes are definitely changing to embrace the trades. For too long, careers and apprenticeships were left out of the “after high school graduation” conversation by educators, school counselors, and parents.

7.    What changed?

Over time, many things. There are more trades champions, and many kids don’t see college as the “only” option. The six-figure debt many incur for their education is also a negative. And, the huge opportunity that exists in the PHCE trades is really attractive.  

Also, the more we can talk about the positives, the better off we’ll be. After the pandemic, there’s definitely a renewed interest in what the trades have to offer.

8.    Have you been able to track how many individuals you’ve placed in a trade?

While ETT doesn’t place people directly into a career, we’re tracking how many students are impacted by our programs and resources and the number of public school districts in the country that are using our materials. 

9.    Roughly how many schools take advantage of ETT?

To date, ETT resources are being used by approximately 13% of public school districts (1,700+) in the nation. Over the past three years, that equates to over 500,000 students.

10.    How does the organization attract teachers to participate?

Much of the success we’ve had with educators has come through our participation in the American School Counselors Association ASCA. We connect with them at their annual conference. And after that it’s referrals that drive the traffic between ETT and educators. 

11.    Are there other organizations that use your materials? 

Yes, home service contractors, distributors and industry companies use our materials to help establish partnerships in their local communities. 

12.    What is contained in the poster kit you send to high schools?

The poster kits include a series of five posters – four career paths for plumbing, HVAC, electrical, and customer experience. The fifth is an all-compassing infographic with various pieces of information about the trades.

13.    What is the ratio of interest by gender?

While boys and young men are making up the vast percentage of interest and participation in trades classes, we’re also hearing from instructors and school counselors about the continued interest of females in the trades. With our Skills Lab program, we’re seeing steady numbers of girls participating in HVAC and plumbing classes, which is really encouraging. 

14.    How do the industries rank in terms of interest? 

Great question. It’s something we want to start tracking. 

15.    Are students able to sign up for apprenticeships?

While students cannot sign up for apprenticeships through ETT, our organization provides an apprenticeship directory on our website. Students are able to research apprenticeship opportunities in their respective states.

16.    What approach works best to attract interest with high school students?

I think the best way to introduce them to the trades is through a hands-on event. That could take many forms: visiting a local shop, inviting a local service company to the school for a career fair, or inviting a technician or owner to be a guest speaker and talk about his or her experience in the trades.

17.    What surprises the students about the trades?

Technology. There have been huge advances in smart devices managing the HVAC systems in homes and buildings. Or how electricians are now trained to install charging stations for electric cars. The upcoming generations are so adaptable with technology and these careers are perfect for that interest and aptitude. The more relatable the industry can be, the better it will be in growing a skilled workforce. 

18.    Can you tell me more about the Skills Lab program?

It’s an equipment grant program with Ferguson, a long-standing partner with Explore The Trades. The Skills Lab program has provided plumbing and HVAC equipment to 26 schools around the country. More details can be found on our website.

19.    Who are the ETT supporters?

Supporters of ETT are small business owners, tradespeople, industry vendors, and those who have a passion for the trades. Contributions to the organization allow our team to continue to provide trades-related resources and programs to schools. We want to make sure as many students as possible are informed about PHCE careers. A gift of just $10 gets a poster kit to a school and educates 240 students!

20.    How can our readers help get involved with your organization?

Our team is always open to exploring partnerships. As they say, the rising tide raises all ships. If one of your readers has an idea or interest in joining forces in the spirit of trades education, please give us a call and check us out at and on social media,  @explorethetrades.

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