May 11, 2018

U.S. Faces a Skilled Trades Deficit as High School Grads Choose College

Conventional wisdom says going to four-year college is the ticket to a well-paying, stable job – but is it? The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports an average salary for someone with a bachelor’s degree is $59,124. The typical length of time to pay off student loans is now 21 years, research shows. Meanwhile, there are 30 million U.S. jobs that average $55,000 and don’t require bachelor’s degrees, according to research from Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

“We start to believe that the best path for the most people happens to be the most expensive path,” said Mike Rowe, best known for his popular TV show Dirty Jobs. “And it also happens to be the path that has led to a skills gap of about 5.8 million positions and student loans of about 1.3 trillion …

Small-business owners know firsthand how hard it can be to hire skilled-service workers. A recent report found that 21% of owners said finding qualified employees is the biggest challenge they face.

“As baby boomers retire, millennials are not stepping in to fill these trade jobs, making it even more difficult for businesses of all sizes to fill these roles,” said Tara Sinclair, chief economist at Indeed.

Unlike their peers who head to four-year colleges, high school grads who want to go into the trades often can get paid while they learn. These skilled jobs require training, apprenticeships, two-year associate degrees, and other education. Examples include electrician, plumber, carpenter, medical assistant, radiologic technologist, tax preparer, payroll administrator, and computer support specialist.

“Small businesses can compete for talent by offering training programs to fill the talent gap,” said Sinclair. “While it may be a challenge for a small business to lose productivity up front, the long-term benefits of having properly trained employees in a tight labor market can be worth it.”

Rowe maintains we’ve done a disservice to high school students with our short-sighted focus on college. In fact, 36% of millennial college graduates with student loans now say they would have skipped college if they had understood the cost, research shows. Then there are the 30% of college students who go to public universities and 20% who attend private schools who haven’t earned degrees within six years, according to the National Student Clearinghouse. They racked up big bills without getting a college diploma in the process.

“About 40 years ago, we started telling the current generation that the best path for the most people was a four-year degree,” said Rowe. “But what happened …  is they wound up promoting one form of education at the expense of all the other forms. College became higher education and apprenticeship programs, trade schools, community colleges, and all the job training opportunities, those became alternatives to education.”

To help students of all ages pay for trade school, the mikeRoweWORKS Foundation has granted more than $3 million scholarships. “Skilled jobs pay a good wage, and [can] lead to six-figure salaries and the formation of countless small businesses,” said Rowe.

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About the author

Andrea Mather
Andrea Mather is a writer and coach whose first business lessons were watching her parents start an engineering firm. She loves helping people take small steps and big leaps toward enjoying healthier, more fulfilled lives. Andrea has a B.J. in Journalism from the University of Missouri, Columbia.

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