And it's only going to get worse.
Many of our most skilled workers are nearing retirement age, and with the high schools pushing college over training programs in the trades, employers who need these skilled workers are looking down the barrel at some tough years ahead.
It's a problem of our own making.
For decades, high schools have pushed the idea that college is the goal. But college does not make everyone happy. Not every student, no matter how successful the school (or how smart the student), wants to continue their education at a university. Even so, many succumb to parental and student counselor pressure to continue on with a college education.
The school of thought has been that if college doesn't work out, the trades are a good "plan B."
Here are 3 reasons the trades make a lousy "plan B."
1) School is expensive. Very expensive. The student is not only investing thousands of dollars to sit in classes, but they are also losing out on employment income while they do so. The college investment is often figured out by the cost of tuition, etc., but when you consider wages lost while spending time in the classroom, that cost could more than double.
Additionally, most students take out some loans to pay for their education, which means if plan "A" (college) doesn't pan out, they are now not only jobless, but also they are jobless, lack work skills, and have debt.
2) The trades should be respected. The men and women who build our houses and bridges and roads make it possible for the country to move and grow. Speaking for those of us in the construction industry, we would rather train a worker who feels good about their life choices than try to reprogram a disappointed, disillusioned, college dropout who feels like they failed by getting a job in our industry. We like what we do. We make a decent living. We are proud of our jobs. Let your kid be proud of who they are too.
3) Life moves quickly. And the trades are learned almost solely in apprenticeship programs. Apprenticeship pay is (and this is a huge generalization) roughly half of what a Journeyman makes. For someone just starting out, this can pay the bills. Add a couple of years, some debt from college, and maybe a family to support, and many people can't afford to begin an apprenticeship program, even though the outlook for future income is well beyond what they currently make.
The fact is, the trades make a great career. Journeyman aspirations should not be considered any lower than college aspirations, and we need to stop pushing our kids to fit in the college box.
There are jobs to be had. If your kid isn't relishing the idea of going to college, please support them and let them explore some of the other options.
Here is a link with some information on jobs in the trades.