High-paying Trade Jobs vs College Degree

High-Paying Trade Jobs Sit Empty, While High School Grads Line Up For University

From "All Things Considered" on NPR this week.

"While a shortage of workers is pushing wages higher in the skilled trades, the financial return from a bachelor's degree is softening, even as the price — and the average debt into which it plunges students — keeps going up.

"But high school graduates have been so effectively encouraged to get a bachelor's that high-paid jobs requiring shorter and less expensive training are going unfilled. This affects those students and also poses a real threat to the economy."

Reuters today doing a news story on "new collar jobs." IBM and other big corporations recruiting kids in high school. They may need to take post-HS classes but won't need 4 year degrees.


I think this scenario, of trade jobs needing trainees, is dependent upon location. I live in a college-bound, education-saturated location with a high cost of living. Most kids out of HS don't turn toward the trades, so there seems to be a demand for apprentices of nearly any age or background. My cousin in TN had a harder time getting into an electrician training program as there was a wait list due to having a much more trade-directed population.

Both my kids are hybridizing - one started an apprenticeship in Germany (where they've kept their system alive) in floral design (getting business experience and slightly appeasing her artistic streak) and is now working toward college admission (also in Germany) in plant science/propagation. If they'd offered an apprenticeship in propagation and nursery plant culture, she'd probably forego college. (tangential: Granted the scientific, petroleum-reliant approach to this aspect of horticulture won't stand up to major decline, but it's got some years left in it as humans try to squeeze food out of the smallest footprint possible and kiddo will also investigate low-tech, sustainable directions).

Second kid is interested in health (physical therapy, specifically) - but will look into simultaneous certification (allows for work in the field) and college (allows for full training beyond assistant level). She's not enamored of our healthcare system, but can ride that train for a while, then PT is something that can be traded for should our downslope ride get much bumpier as is likely.

I'm guessing we'll see other such hybrid approaches gain in popularity.

Magpie's picture

I don't know, really. The push for trades triggers some red flags for me--how is this different than the push for STEM (which is pretty saturated at this point). Many auto mechanics are already having a hard time making ends meet, and so are plumbers. Getting apprenticeships for these careers is challenging, as well, as the unions are trying to limit the number of folks coming in to keep their wages up. My husband was told recently that he was too old (at 29) to apprentice as a welder--but that's in NZ, which is different from the US in a number of ways.

The local (Central Illinois) bi-monthly Labor Paper came today. Article said the construction workforce is aging out, and they are actively looking for young people interested in the building trades. NAWIC--the National Association of Women in Construction--mentor and offer scholarships for young women who are interested in doing construction and educate school guidance counselors, who may not even suggest the building trades to female students. A friend of mine has her own handywoman construction and repair service and does well for herself.

David Trammel's picture

I was at the animal shelter I've been volunteering last weekend when the same subject came up. Several of the people there had their teen aged daughters there too, and we were discussing the community service requirement that most high schools now have. There are a couple of students who are getting their credits by working for the shelter.

The conversation turned to college and I made the comment "That I wouldn't recommend a college education to anyone for their children now a days because of the expense and the hard time finding a job." One lady said she had a degree but wasn't working in the field.

I made a further comment that if I had a child I'd enroll them in a tech college or skilled trade school, since as I put it, "Hey my auto mechanic makes over $30 an hour and he will never have to look for work. Same with a plumber or an electrician."

There was alot of agreement from the parents.


On a more morbid slant, I regularly read the blog by Selco, over on the SHTF School . Selco is from Bosnia, and lived through the ethnic fighting and civil war there back in the 80s and 90s. He has some sobering recollections for people who think a civil war and such would be fun.

On the post linked above, about what to store for having it to barter in rough times, he said this:

"In the long run, skills were more valuable, simply because you can not “spend“ your skills. If you had medical skills you could expect that people over the time (through the word on the street) will hear that, and that you simply will have opportunities to get something for that skill. I pointed out in an earlier article that when a serious collapse happens, things fall apart around you fiscally, there are no services, so skills for “repairing“ were valuable, and so were technical skills.

Medicines were substituted with home (natural) remedies so knowing that stuff was valuable, making simple cloth pieces was good, and repairing weapons. I knew people who did good because they made very basic cigar holders from wood and empty bullet shell simply because people smoked bad tobacco hand rolled in paper. Skills that made the new reality easier.

Skills were also more safe to trade simply because by attacking and killing you, the attacker cannot take away your skills from you."

Interesting...but the thing that jumps out at me: having your community around you before SHTF. Having relationships that you can fall back on. Having wingmen when you need to trade.

David Trammel's picture

I didn't mean that you shouldn't have those things. Of course living in a situation where the SHTF seriously, like Senco went through in Bosnia, involves more than just having good skills. What I found reassuring was that he said basically the same thing that Greer does, cultivate skills not stockpile supplies.

I suspect that only a handful of us will ever see a really serious collapse of our local community into a warzone. Instead we will see a slow grinding decrease of what we have come to expect government and business provide now. The smart ones, and those of us who learn green wizardry, will take the time to learn the skills that will take up that decrease and provide for our continuing neccessaries.

Unfortunately it seems like the country has entered a "up step/recovery period" recently, which means that many of the people who don't want to face the decline Greer predicts, will use this temporary period of plenty to argue they don't need to learn the skills and make the changes in their lives that they need to, to survive when things get tight again.

I have been bingeing on Amy Chua books. Right now I am reading World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability.  It's an eye-opening book on how and why SHTF. And right now I don't think it's useful to compare the US with Bosnia or Venezuela. Most of the major SHTF events in recent memory have been caused by an impoverished ethic majority turning on a miniscule but hugely wealthy ethnic minority. There's no doubt that we may be facing a white majority turning on ethnic minorities in this country if the economy tanks, but that's  a different scenario.

I have been rethinking A LOT about recent history, but  don't have time right now to write it all out. I've been without internet for almost a week, and I only get an hour or two at McDonald's in the evening. I think I will have to type out stuff in a text file and cut and paste into GW.