For decades, the narrative has been that after high school, you go to a four-year university and earn a bachelor’s degree. While college is certainly the right path for many people, it’s not the only road to a successful, lucrative career. The skilled trades represent an often overlooked but outstanding alternative career path that more students should seriously consider.

The Myth of the College Premium

There’s a pervasive myth that having a four-year degree guarantees you’ll make significantly more money over your career than those without one. However, the reality is more nuanced. According to research from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the median annual earnings for someone with a trade certification is $35,000 – comparable to someone with a bachelor’s degree at $36,000.

And keep in mind, that’s the median. The top 25% of tradespeople earn over $54,000 per year. Salaries in certain trades like electricians, plumbers, HVAC technicians and others can reach well into the six-figures for experienced workers, especially those running their own businesses.

No Student Debt, Quicker Entry to Workforce

One major advantage for those pursuing the trades is avoiding the crushing burden of student loan debt. The average student borrower graduates with nearly $30,000 in loans. Trade programs, which typically last 1-2 years at a vocational school or community college, have much lower tuition costs.

Additionally, trade careers allow you to enter the workforce full-time 2-4 years earlier than a traditional 4-year degree. That head start of higher earnings can put tradespeople hundreds of thousands of dollars ahead over the course of their career.

Job Stability and Growth

Fears of the trades becoming automated or outsourced are overblown. In reality, most trade jobs require hands-on, in-person skills that cannot be easily automated or offshored. Jobs like electricians, plumbers, HVAC repair and others will remain in high demand.

In fact, employment growth projections for several major trades are extremely strong over the next decade. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects:

  • 19% growth for wind turbine technicians
  • 14% growth for solar photovoltaic installers
  • 9% growth for HVAC mechanics and installers
  • 8% growth for electricians

Fulfilling Career Path

For students who don’t want to spend years sitting behind a desk or computer all day, the trades offer a much more hands-on, active career path. The trades allow you to work with your hands, solve practical problems, and see the tangible results of your efforts daily.

Many tradespeople also enjoy the autonomy and pride of entrepreneurship by building up their own business over time. It’s a career journey that can provide a deep sense of purpose, skill mastery and financial independence.

The skilled trades are a viable, rewarding career option that not enough students consider nowadays. With lower training costs, job stability, strong earnings potential, and work flexibility, the trades deserve a closer look for your post-high school plans.

Categories: 2024

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