Over the last few decades, higher education has become the new norm. Teenagers feel pressured to attend college, where demanding classes drown them in debt. Institution prices have skyrocketed, and the majority of undergrads rely on loans or financial aid. Meanwhile, the expression “college isn’t for everyone” has diminished, and teens are taught that a college degree will guarantee them a better-paying job.
As a result, fewer Americans prefer vocational schools or careers that don’t require a college education. The demand for these jobs has elevated, as more people are retiring than entering the workforce. Customers must wait longer for services, and employers are having a difficult time finding suitable workers.
The source of this problem is high schools, where students and parents are convinced to go to college after graduation. They are told that this is the best way to earn more, and society looks down on those who don’t have a degree.
High school graduates have been so effectively encouraged to get a bachelor’s that high-paid jobs requiring shorter and less expensive training are going unfilled. This affects those students and also poses a real threat to the economy.
“Parents want success for their kids,” said Mike Clifton, who teaches machining at the Lake Washington Institute of Technology, about 20 miles from Seattle. “They get stuck on [four-year bachelor’s degrees], and they’re not seeing the shortage there is in tradespeople until they hire a plumber and have to write a check.”
In New York, BOCES (Boards of Corporate Educational Services) programs have partnered with school districts to allow students to learn a field of their choice. In my former high school, students could choose to spend half the day studying at a second institution, sacrificing their electives and foreign language classes. Popular BOCES programs include veterinary science, nurse assisting, game design and programming, automotive technology, carpentry, welding, cosmetology, culinary arts, accounting, HVAC/plumbing, criminal justice, and more.
Forbes contributor Sarah Chamberlain confronts the absence of trade workers. Her piece, titled “Addressing the Skilled Labor Shortage in America” states:
Many [young men and women] are already skilled at working with their hands, and prefer jobs where they can move around rather than sitting at a desk all day. High school career counselors would be doing students a big favor by informing them about the benefits of getting into technical trades. Parents who best understand their son or daughter’s interests may also do well to encourage career options aside from immediately attending college. It’s time we reduce the stigma around technical training. Skilled labor is not a fallback position, but a genuine positive career choice. . . . Technical careers demand the same level of leadership, collaborative teamwork, productivity, and problem solving in an equally complex and challenging environment as any other employment opportunity.
Here are some statistics to show the impacts of the labor shortage:
- The U.S. Department of Education reports that there will be 68 percent more job openings in infrastructure-related fields in the next five years than there are people training to fill them.
- According to the Associated General Contractors of America, seventy-percent of construction companies nationwide are having trouble finding qualified workers.
- The National Electrical Contractors Association of Western PA reports that the nationwide demand for skilled electricians will increase as many current electricians reach retirement age. There are around 16,000 job openings.
- The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce believes that approximately 30 million jobs in the United States that pay an average of $55,000 per year don’t require bachelor’s degrees.
But what happens when there is a skilled labor shortage? For starters, America’s growing population calls for construction workers, architects, contractors, engineers, and carpenters to assemble buildings and hinder broken roads and bridges. Work cannot be done when there are no workers available. Meanwhile, homeowners must wait multiple days or weeks to get their electricity back after a regional power outage. The price of service work, specifically plumbers and electricians, rises, and laborers earn more money. A decrease in completion means that companies have fewer candidates to hire, so the quality of workers declines. Not to mention, trade workers bear physical responsibilities and are healthier than their sitting-behind-a-desk counterparts.
Teenagers who forgo university establish their careers shortly after high school. Those who go to trade school graduate in less than two years and at a much cheaper price (around $33,000, according to moneywise.com). They find jobs right away (due to the high demand) and earn a livable salary as a minimum. One downside to a skilled labor career is the daily strenuous work.
A suggestion is to temporarily avoid college if you are unsure of your professional path. Adolescents who have a dream job should obtain the required degree. Others can try service work, look into a vocational school, consider an emergency service position, join the military, or take a gap year. (Here are the pros and cons of taking a gap year.) During a gap year, it is crucial to find a job, volunteer, apply to colleges, or discover your future career. Parents can also teach their children that college is not the only option and that alternatives can make them just as successful.
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