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After Decades Of Pushing Bachelor’s Degrees, U.S. Needs More Tradespeople

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We’ve all had the lecture about going to college. Whether it comes from a parent, a teacher, or a passionate stranger sitting next to you on the bus, it’s always the same. “The only way to get a job and live a successful life is to go to college and get a degree.” This idea has been drilled into our brains since kindergarten. But, as it turns out, the economy is saying otherwise.

Why The U.S. Needs More Tradespeople

As much as teachers and parents may feel they aren’t being heard, all that lecturing has had a real effect on the nation. According to a survey done by the National Center for Education Statistics, from 2003 to 2012 only 8% of undergraduates enrolled in a sub-baccalaureate certificate program. (1)

At first, this sounds like an excellent thing. The large majority of the next generation of workers are seeking higher education. Haven’t we been striving for an educated populous? Well, the issue isn’t that students are graduating with bachelor degrees. The issue is simply that the U.S. needs more tradespeople.

The Negative Effect On Vocational Business

Construction specifically has been negatively affected by the constant push for bachelor’s degrees. The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) reports that 70% of contractors are having difficulty finding qualified workers. This includes carpenters, electricians, plumbers, welders, and masons, just to name a few. Fewer workers in vocational fields like these mean fewer projects and upkeep for firms of all career fields. (2)

But construction isn’t the only area of vocational work that is facing challenges. Surveys show that there are 68% more job openings in transportation than there are people completing the educational program required for the occupation. Jobs in this area include public transit, trucking transportation, train conductors, and airline workers. The U.S. needs more tradespeople because if these jobs aren’t filled, how is anyone else supposed to get to work in the first place? (3)

The Reward Of Trade Work

Trade and craft work is often looked down upon. A societal myth exists that a successful life is impossible without a job that requires a bachelor degree. But just taking a look at the numbers reveals that this just isn’t the case. According to the Georgetown center, there are 30 million jobs available in the U.S. alone that don’t require a bachelor’s degree and still pay an average of $56,000 a year. And because the demand is so great, someone with a trade or craft certification may have a pretty good chance they’ll be hired and enjoy job stability. (4)

Another upside to a vocational career is finishing their education. Research shows that across the nation almost a third of students don’t finish their bachelor’s degree within 6 years of enrollment. On the other hand, most trade programs are shorter and less expensive than the typical “4-year” bachelor’s program. If students were more aware of trade and craft career options this would create more opportunity for the next generation of workers, rather than less. (5)

A Balance Of Careers

The point here isn’t that people should stop going to college to get a bachelor’s degree. Obviously, the U.S. needs teachers, architects, and financial advisors just as much as any trade-skilled jobs. But there needs to be a better balance. Students shouldn’t be pressured into getting a bachelor’s degree based on the lie that it’s the only way to have a high-paying, successful career that may land them in a pile of debt. The U.S. needs more tradespeople, and chances are that if given the opportunity, more people would find that a career in trade is exactly what they needed to live a successful life.

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Emilyn Gil

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