For years, the trend among high school guidance counselors has been to steer students toward universities instead of vocational schools. Lately, however, the bleak job market has left parents finding it difficult to justify the high cost of four-year colleges. With a shorter time commitment and a smaller price tag, vocational schools are proving to be promising alternatives to traditional colleges, especially as the demand and wages for skilled trades workers has risen in recent years.
University Grads’ Unemployment Rates & Wages
Recent college graduates are not only having a harder time finding work but they’re also earning less money when they do. Below are some statistics on the problem that were recently compiled by Slate Magazine.
● More than 30 percent of people with a Bachelor of Arts degree who are between the ages of 22 and 26 are unemployed or underemployed.
● Approximately 44 percent of people aged 22 to 27 holding a B.A. or higher are working in positions that don’t require university degrees, such as at coffee shops or restaurants.
● |These graduates are making less money than in the past at jobs that don’t require degrees: fewer than 40 percent are earning at least $45,000 annually, and more than 20 percent are in low-wage jobs that pay $25,000 a year.
● USA Today reports that the average cost of attending a private four-year college has risen to $42,419.
Vocational School Grads’ Employment Rates & Wages
Compared to those taking the traditional four-year college route, the graduates of vocational schools are spending less on school and enjoying higher employment rates and wages, reports Business Insider.
● Job placement for the graduates of trade schools is close to 100 percent.
● The average cost to complete a vocational school program can be as low as $5,000.
● Starting salaries for tech school grads can run as high as $80,000.
● Since 2009, vocational school graduates have earned an average starting salary of $42,000, versus $27,000 for college graduates.
Growing Demand for Technical School Graduates
In recent years, two factors have contributed to the growing demand for technical school graduates, especially those with training in the skilled trades.
Booming Oil and Gas Industry: Rapid growth in the extraction and production of oil and gas across the United States has increased the demand for skilled workers like welders and pipefitters in recent years. Along the Gulf Coast, industry experts predict that planned projects for the area could require about 500,000 new, skilled workers before 2020, according to OilPrice.com.
Shortage of Skilled Labor: As the manufacturing and other industries recover from the economic recession, they face a shortage of skilled workers. One reason for the problem is that older skilled workers are retiring faster than they’re being replaced. Fewer young men and women may be entering the skilled trades, for instance as a welding professional, because they’re simply not exposed to these options in high schools as much as in the past. Budget cuts have forced many high schools to eliminate vocational training programs, notes Tulsa Welding School. Moreover, high school students are often encouraged to continue on to four-year colleges without consideration of their interests or aptitudes for the skilled trades.
One Young Welder’s Success Story
This wasn’t the case for Justin Friend, as an online feature in the Wall Street Journal recently highlighted. After taking a welding course in high school, Friend received his welding degree from Texas State Technical College in just two years. By the end of his first year working as a welder, his income was about $130,000, more than three times the national average for this profession. He finished out the following year with about $140,000 in his bank account. His role as a welder in the energy industry has not only allowed him to purchase a $53,000 Ford F-250 pickup truck, but also to invest in his future with mutual funds. Not every welder can expect to earn as much as Friend so soon out of school, but his story nonetheless serves as a testament to the opportunities available to the graduates of vocational schools.
Promising Career Path
While vocational school may not be for everyone, it can offer a promising career path with less of the financial risk that’s been associated with traditional four-year universities. As the story of Mr. Friend illustrates, young men and women can find themselves in lucrative and fulfilling positions in a short amount of time when they are willing to investigate, and then dedicate themselves to, a skilled trade.