Need a Career? Consider the Trades.
When the unemployment rate is almost twice as high for those without a college degree than those who possess a bachelor’s degree or higher, it might seem like higher education is the answer. However, while many non-degreed jobs offer little job security and low pay, particularly those in the service industry, the trades are a great option for workers seeking a stable career.
Although trades professions like carpenters, welders, pipe-fitters, and utility workers aren’t new, there’s expected to be a growing number of vacancies in these jobs over the coming years as baby boomers retire. As of 2012, 63.6 percent of skilled trade workers in the U.S. were over the age of 45, including nearly 20 percent between the ages of 55 and 64. That means a large proportion of trade jobs will be opening up over the next decade. In Minnesota, for example, jobs in construction and extraction are expected to grow 17.9 percent between 2017 and 2022, installation, maintenance, and repair by 6.7 percent, and transportation and material moving by 4.3 percent. Over the same time period, the number of jobs in office and administrative work and management are projected to decrease.
Not only are trade careers available, but they also offer a comfortable salary for families. According to the Chicago Tribune, apprentices in the construction trades start at about $17 per hour. Despite not requiring a degree, many jobs quickly increase that pay to over $40 per hour in the first two to five years. While the average cost of $33,000 for a trade school degree is comparable to university education on a per-year basis, students in the trades complete training much faster and have great prospects for securing a job in their field right out of school. In some areas there may be financial assistance to help students afford their degree and move into an in-demand career, such as the MnSCU Occupational Grant Pilot Program.
On the other hand, rising higher education costs leave many college graduates facing tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt. According to The Institute for College Access and Success, the average student debt load for a public university graduate was $28,950 in 2014, and that number is only rising. That’s a burden that takes the average bachelor’s degree holder 21 years to pay off, which poses a significant hindrance for young adults seeking to start a family or buy their first home.
In addition to a living wage and accessible training opportunities, the trades offer a level of job security that few other careers can compete with. Since jobs like welding, carpentry, and plumbing require a physical presence to complete, they’re effectively impossible to export. Not only are these jobs likely to remain stateside, but they can be found in communities ranging from rural to urban. That offers a stark contrast to many high-skill careers like computer programming, in which jobs tend to be centralized in expensive urban locales and can be outsourced to countries with cheaper labor markets.
So which occupations should students consider when planning a career in the trades? CNC programmers, carpenters, and brick masons are among the top five fastest-growing careers in Minnesota, outpacing degreed professions like actuarial science and information security. Thousands of jobs are also expected to be added in construction, electrical work, and plumbing and pipe-fitting before 2022. And even where job growth is minimal, replacement rates will ensure a demand in a wide variety of trades over the coming years, providing students the flexibility to pursue an occupation that matches their interests.