College applications are due this time of year and young adults across the country are confronted with real life questions that many before them have faced. Is college for me and, if so, what type of school? How far from home? Can I afford it and how deep will I go into debt? What are other routes to a great career? Conventional thinking over the last few decades have led some to think a four-year degree is their only path to land a worthwhile job.
The “college experience” can be an exciting prospect that starts with trying out subjects that hopefully lead to a profession and ends with abundant student loans and no job after graduation to pay them off. The National Center for Education Statistics lists that on average, students attending a four-year institution pay $23,066 per year. That can be a mighty big financial hole to dig out of, but it’s not always necessary to find your calling.
The proliferation of technology across nearly every industrial sector has expanded the opportunities for leading-edge, innovative jobs without the time or financial commitment of a four-year degree. There are many jobs in IT, science and medicine, front- and back-office, industrial, and other fields where two years at technical school will launch a great career. The price tag for these degrees average less than $10,000 per year.
Let’s talk about job prospects. We’re currently experiencing a “manufacturing renaissance” in the U.S. as we see more manufacturers producing goods on American soil, as opposed to moving facilities to countries that previously offered lower production costs. This is leading to an influx of jobs for professionals with middle skill level knowledge and experience. “The Future of the U.S. Workforce” report from Achieve.org says:
Much has been said about the importance of increasing the labor supply for “middle skills jobs,” or those jobs that now (compared to decades past) require more than a high school education but less than a bachelor’s degree (e.g., associate degree, postsecondary certificate, apprenticeship, etc.). Middle skills jobs now comprise about half of all U.S. jobs, generally offer solid wages and pathways to advancement, and in many cases, are going unfilled even as overall unemployment remains high.
While manufacturing job opportunities are increasing, we see the current skilled labor force begin to drastically age out. According to Go Build Georgia, for every four people retiring from the trades, there is only one person to take their place. Based on those numbers, there’s an urgent need to fill these positions. Opportunities and growth are plentiful for those graduating from a technical school. According to Achieve.org, between the years of 2008 and 2018, the most rapidly growing occupations will be ones that require an associate degree.
Salaries coming out of trade school are significant and the job security is almost unmatched. Manufacturing has become sophisticated and specialized work as skilled trades are as much about working in technology as with your hands. The sweaty steam room images of old are long gone, but we need to create a mindset shift with younger generations. And their parents.