The Importance of Skilled Trades

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High school and even junior high school students have a lot of pressure to prepare for college and earn a degree. For a lot of people, going to college is an automatic choice when they complete high school. But is it always the right choice?

Why College Is the Norm

According to statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, people with bachelor’s degrees earn more money, on average, than people with high school diplomas only. The idea of higher earning potential is what drives so many people to apply to and attend college. However, the statistics don’t break down the job options to show what career choices still have high earning potential.
Those numbers also don’t factor in the cost of college and how much you’ll have to pay back in student debt in exchange for the degree. That’s why it’s important for you to know that college isn’t your only option. A trade school can prepare you for a great career while saving you a lot of money.

Skilled Trade Workers Needed

Not only can you make a great living by working in a skilled trade, but you can also fulfill a growing need. A skilled tradesman refers to someone who specializes in a certain occupation that requires formal vocational education that isn’t necessarily a traditional four-year college degree program. In order to qualify as a skilled tradesman, you also must work in a job that requires on-the-job training and work experience. Common jobs include:

  • Electricians
  • Plumbers and Pipefitters
  • Backhoe and other construction equipment operators
  • Electrical repairmen
  • Riggers
  • Machinists
  • Tool and die makers
  • Welders
  • Carpenters
  • Forklift handlers, including large capacity forklifts
  • Tile and marble setters
  • Cement masons and finishers
  • Painters
  • Sheet metal workers
  • Structural iron and steel workers
  • Plasterers
  • Crane and tower operators
  • Dump truck operators

Skilled trades can also refer to those in the service industry. Some examples include:

  • Dental hygienists
  • EMTs and paramedics
  • Medical and dental assistants
  • Chefs and head cooks
  • Legal and medical secretaries
  • Hairdressers
  • Manicurists
  • Bakers
  • Automotive mechanics
  • Shoe and leather workers
  • Medical appliance technicians

These jobs are important to society. Without skilled tradesmen, buildings wouldn’t get built, and it would be impossible to get services or even dine out at a restaurant.

Cost of a College Education

The cost to go to college continues to go up. Research performed by the Department of Labor in Idaho shows that the average cost for a bachelor’s degree at a college or university in the U.S. is $127,000. Most students have to take out loans to pay for college. With the interest on those loans, you could end up paying back much more. In addition to tuition, you have to pay for food, housing, books, and more. College is not cheap.
When you earn a degree, the economic landscape might not be as good as you expect. The unemployment rates for recent college grads are higher than they were a decade ago. Depending on your field, you might have a hard time finding a solid job opportunity right out of college.

Job Potential in Skilled Trades

On the other hand, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts rapid growth for several skilled trade jobs over the next few years. Construction laborer jobs should increase by 13 percent between 2016 and 2026, which is faster than average growth. This translates to more than 183,000 jobs that should open up by 2026. For plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters, the growth rate prediction is 16 percent, which is much faster than average. Other skilled trades show high growth rates as well, so job prospects are good.

Spend Less Time

When you choose to learn a trade instead of going to college, you can save a lot of time. The average bachelor’s degree takes at least four years to finish. On the other hand, the average trade school program takes two years to finish. The cost difference is major too. On average, you could save nearly $100,000 by choosing a trade school instead of a college or university. The average amount of debt that students have when graduating from technical school is $10,000. When graduating with a bachelor’s, the average debt load is $29,900.

Skilled Trades in Pop Culture

If you turn on your TV or watch a movie, you’ll likely see skilled tradesmen working in all kinds of capacities. On your favorite home renovation and building shows, construction workers, foremen, and general contractors oversee and perform the work. On the favorite show, “Dirty Jobs,” the host, Mike Rowe, takes on all types of skilled work. In doing so, he learns the ins and outs of doing certain jobs. Many of these jobs are in trades such as plumbing, coal mining, caring for animals, and more. When Rowe does these jobs, he realizes how hard people in skilled trades really work to achieve results.

Earning Potential

You don’t have to sacrifice earning potential by choosing a skilled trade. According to statistics from the BLS, the average annual income for a worker in an office or administrative support job is $34,410. The average annual income for construction workers is $44,960. Skilled tradesmen can also grow and advance in their careers. This is especially true for those who specialize in a certain skill or trade. When you’re an expert, you become more in demand. You may find that you’re working more on different jobs, which can help you earn more money faster.
There is also the potential to become a foreman, supervisor, or superintendent when working in the construction field. You could even go on to get your contractor’s license and take on work as a business owner. Working in a skilled trade offers a solid income and opportunities for growth.
Although many career counselors and high school staff members push students to college, working in a skilled trade is a valuable alternative. Many people enjoy their work and thrive in careers as skilled tradesmen. With so many opportunities and high growth potential, considering a job in a skilled trade is certainly worthwhile. You can put your skills to use while getting better at something that is very useful in society. These trades will always be important, even as machines and technology continue to change.


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