Thank you, National Public Radio (NPR), for this: (link to) “High Paying Jobs Sit Empty…” I know the degree to which this article rings true! Young people, their parents, and high school guidance counselors often overlook great paying jobs and career paths in the skilled trades. A recent LinkedIn discussion prompted me to share this article, and my commentary is based on my own experience in providing career services to students at a two-year community college.
There is such a demand for skilled trades-workers in this country today that these workers may never lack for a job. Yes, not only does our country have a great need for such workers (how often have you heard talk of our crumbling infrastructure?), but there is also a dire shortage of supply. Fewer young people are in the pipeline to replace the number of workers who are now retiring. The reason? The common narrative promoted to high school students–by parents, by high school counselors, by peers–is that they MUST go to college and MUST get a Bachelor’s degree in order to have a successful career and a satisfactory life. This has been the mantra over several decades now, which started in the 1960’s. And it is just not true! How many young people in our high schools do not want four (4) years of college? Plenty of them! And how often do these youth tend to fall off any career path because they just are not motivated to pursue this unchallenged narrative? These may be students who never even attempt college, or the ones who drop out after a semester or two of gen ed classes because they don’t see any sense or goal for themselves there. Although they know they don’t want college–at least in the traditional sense–they often don’t know what to do with themselves next, frequently ending up in minimum wage jobs with no clear future. Indeed, even many of our Bachelor’s degree holders are working as baristas at Starbucks, for example, according to author Jeffrey Selingo’s (link: There is Life After College), making it clear that for many young people even a Bachelor’s degree may not be adequate preparation for a real career.
As a society, we seldom promote career opportunities in the trades to young people. That’s unfortunate, as they are often well-paid! Trades careers–welding, plumbing, automotive, construction, gas and electric utilities, among others–often appeal to those individuals who prefer working with their hands, want to be active and moving at work, and like doing something tangible, like building, fixing, or using tools (and perhaps doing these activities outdoors). These people often view a future in the office cubicle as the worst fate imaginable! However, again, for decades our educational system and societal attitudes have tended to place a lesser value on trades careers, not viewing them as favorably as “white collar”, professional jobs which are (often falsely) seen as attainable once the four-year college degree ticket is punched. Therefore, the majority of our graduating high school students are funneled onto the more esteemed and traditional four-year college track, whether it truly fits their interests or not. There is frequently little awareness on the part of the students, their parents, or their teachers and counselors about the great job opportunities available in the skilled trades.
Trades careers often involve much less preparation time than traditional Bachelor’s degrees. Not only are some gained through an apprenticeship under a master/mentor in the desired trade, but trades programs are often offered (and less expensively when compared to university offerings) at your local community college. One or two years of training/study is usually the norm to enter these fields, and it can be with or without an Associate’s degree, after which the individual can earn a starting salary of $20.00 or more an hour–that’s $40,000 per year, folks, at the start. It is not uncommon for these workers, over time, to command over $100,000 per year if they work their way up to supervisory positions. Moreover, for those who want more study, a Bachelor’s degree (often in a management program) can be pursued later on for more upward career mobility. Even better: It is not unusual for a worker’s company to pick up all or part of the expense of a worker’s classes. Thus, with some experience (providing context) under their belts, such workers often make better students, and may pay far less, than they might have if coming directly from high school. Not surprisingly, they also may now be more motivated to learn. Not only do they have a first-hand understanding of their field, but they also tend to have set concrete goals for more responsibility and advancement in their chosen occupation.
So listen up, students, parents, and high school counselors! Don’t overlook the skilled-trades careers. They can be a good-fit for students who don’t want a traditional four-year college degree.