Harmel Academy of the Trades launches; new funding accelerates development

(Grand Rapids, Mich.) Feb. 26, 2021 – Harmel Academy of the Trades, a residential, Catholic postsecondary program, has welcomed the first group of students to its campus. The school aims at meeting the urgent demand for U.S. skilled trades workers while forming students in their Catholic faith in a full-time residency program.

With a $200,000 grant from the Arlington, Va.-based Charles Koch Foundation, Harmel will enhance and expand its programs by establishing an income share agreement fund that will help students finance their degree. This program aims to significantly increase enrollment and dramatically lower the debt burden for students. With the Koch funding, Harmel will also scale its model by creating partnerships with other social entrepreneurs who are interested in establishing similar skilled trades schools. 

“Harmel graduates will leave with more than just a skillset that helps them find a job,” said Charles Koch Foundation Executive Director Ryan Stowers. “They’ll be leaders and innovators whose principles-based thinking will create a better society for everyone.”   

“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,” Stowers said. “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.”

“The support from Koch demonstrates that the school’s partners understand that forming strong communities starts by forming virtuous men and women,” said Harmel President Brian Black.

“We believe that trades education can not only provide much-needed training for our economy,” Black said. “It is also an arena for innovation in education, and for bringing together things that have too often been held separate: namely, the formation of men’s skills, minds, and souls. As workers, we seek to build a fully human life. And by living a life of work, prayer, and study, Harmel students are able to get started living a life of prayer and work from day one.”

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. 

Working against the common misperception that people working in trade and skilled jobs are not interested in the humanities, or view them as unrelated to their field, Harmel marries a robust technical program with a personalized, integrated humanities curriculum. Alongside skills workshops, students explore how work is a collaboration with God in the creation of the world and contributes to the common good. Harmel students learn concepts about the dignity of work and the dignity of workers, and the connection between one’s work and one’s holiness. 

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, problem-solving skills, moral virtues, and habits of prayer that students will need to become leaders in their field of work, in their communities, and in their parishes.

Employers expect a shortage of 3.4 million skilled 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 is a post-secondary, residential, Catholic trades school for men in Grand Rapids, MI.


For inquiries, please contact David Michael Phelps at dmp@harmelacademy.org.

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