Industry Articles From Kaempf and Harris

Why Do People Avoid Talking About Trade Careers?


The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects skilled trade careers to increase faster than the national average this year. If that’s the case, why do most parents, educators, and guidance counselors avoid talking about trade careers as a viable option for students after high school?

Why not a bachelor's degree?

The most popular consideration is a 4-year bachelor’s degree with some students going onto their master’s and doctorate’s.

Breaking down the facts, a bachelor’s degree takes an average of 4 years to complete (even though 60 to 80 percent of students don't graduate on time), which means that most higher education students graduate at 21 or 22 years old. During these vital years of education, only 65 percent of students take advantage of “real world” experience in the form of internships, and most of them go unpaid for their efforts. It’s considered only a resume builder. 

This means most students at a university or college will earn a degree in more than 4 years with the potential for some (most likely, unpaid) experience, and nearly 70 percent of students will owe the government, banks, and/or the school an average of $127,000 plus interest. 

Why a trade school?

With trade school, high school graduates spend an average of only 2 years completing their next “degree,” graduating between 19 to 20 years old. During these two years, students are simultaneously completing an apprenticeship in their field of study while typically earning a stipend or future job position for their efforts.

This means that trade school students earn a worthwhile education in half the time for half the money, and they gain fundamental experience in their preferred workforce while potentially profiting from their efforts.

If students can start their career in half the time with the necessary education and experience while earning an early paycheck, why are less and less people mentioning trade school as an option post-high school?

What's wrong with a trade career?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the U.S. economy, there are about 36 million workforce entrants per year. Only 500,000 to 1 million entrants are trained through apprenticeships and continue into a trade career. At its peak, that’s less than 1 percent.

Even if a post-high school student desires to go into a trade school, they’re pigeonholed into one of ten positions, according to a presentation at the 2012 American Association of Community Colleges’ Workforce Development Institute. This includes an electrician, truck driver, carpenter, plumber, pipefitter, construction laborer, sheet metal worker, structural steel/ironworker, roofer, and drywall applicator. 

Efforts to increase and expand trade careers haven’t gone unnoticed though. To combat these narrowed career options, the Government Accountability Office asked for an expansion of federal apprenticeships in 2001 and 2004. This led to the U.S. Department of Labor making efforts toward expanding registered apprenticeships in the healthcare and IT industries, where students can “earn and learn.”

This streamlined approach to education applies hands-on training, has smaller class sizes, and teaches a niche curriculum that offers a better base for a long-term career than general education. Additionally, trade careers have higher job security as more jobs are being outsourced due to cost, making domestic employment difficult to hold onto.

Students considering a bachelor’s degree understand that the lifetime earnings and opportunity to go beyond higher education equate to more than trade schools. However, trade careers shouldn’t be discountedAccording to Business Insider, "college graduates have earned an average starting salary of $27,000 since 2009, versus $42,000 for trade school graduates."

As an alternative option, trade careers incur less student debt, teach high-precision skills, provide better job security and growth, and have higher starting salaries than careers that require bachelor's degrees. Now, let's talk the trades.

If you know someone who is interested in trade school, check out our blog about local apprenticeship opportunities around Frederick, Maryland.

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Topics: Education, Sheet Metal Fabrication, Apprenticeships

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