In Henrico County, Virginia, high school graduates who earned technical training and industry certificates are being recognized for obtaining gainful employment. They may not be on the traditional college route, but our country desperately needs skilled tradesmen and women.

From Today:

For high school seniors, April means looking forward to graduation and what comes next — which, for many, means college.

But in Henrico County, Virginia, public school officials decided to share some of that end-of-year focus on seniors who will instead be heading straight to jobs and careers after graduation, armed with training and industry-based certifications they earned in high school. The county held its first-ever “Career and Technical Letter of Intent Signing Day” on March 28 to celebrate those students and their imminent employment.

“Henrico Schools’ Career and Technical Education program decided that athletes weren’t the only ones who deserved to have their hard work recognized as they look to the future,” the county explained in a post on its public Facebook page. “Students and representatives of their future employers both signed letters-of-intent outlining what students must do before and during employment, what the employer will provide in pay and training, and an estimate of the position’s value.”

Though signing days are a familiar ritual for high school athletes committing to college teams, doing the same for vocational students is a new concept, said Mac Beaton, director of Henrico County Public Schools’ Certified and Technical Education program.

For their first signing day, Henrico County recognized 12 seniors as they signed letters of intent to work as machinists or apprentices with local and national companies such as Rolls-Royce in their aeronautical division, paving and construction firm Branscome Incorporated, Tolley Electric Corporation, and Howell’s Heating & Air.

Beaton told TODAY Parents the idea came from an ongoing struggle to show the value of this kind of education and training. “We’re always trying to figure out how to address the skills gap when the general mentality of parents is ‘I want my child to go to college,'” Beaton said.

“One way to do this is to help them see the value of career and technical education,” he said. “When you start talking data that affects parents’ pocketbooks, that gets their attention.”

Over 5,000 students earn industry-based certifications in Henrico County each year, and those certifications represent training that could mean immediate employment for students following their high school graduation.

“With tech the way it is now, when employers hire, they want someone they don’t want to have to train, and college doesn’t necessarily train you for these jobs,” said Beaton.