The most important part of the ubiquitous American Dream has always been a good education. For the last three generations, is has been implied that this “good education” means getting a four-year degree from a college or university to enter the professional workforce.
On the surface, this advice makes sense, as the financial and information sectors of our economy have spurred fantastic economic growth and prosperity over the past seventy years. The manufacturing sector has been dismantled and sent overseas as the engine driving the economies of nations like China and Mexico.
In order to secure a lucrative career in the financial or information sector, in addition to the hundreds of other professional industries that employ millions of the most successful members of American society, many people believe that a traditional degree is the baseline requirement. They think that without this Diploma in your hand, you can’t expect to get your foot in the door.
As a result, the millennial generation is fighting a two-front war. Behind them, a mountain of student loan debt will chase them for decades. Ahead, gloomy job prospects are seriously damaging their prospects of paying that debt in a timely fashion.
The Millennial Dilemma
For students who weren’t sold on an extended academic career in the first place, it feels like being drafted into a battle they had no desire to fight. So what’s a high school grad to do? Luckily, we are seeing two trends in the current economy that are offering some potent opposition to the traditional career path:
- First, we are seeing some truly innovative thinking and genuine entrepreneurial spirit from the millennial generation. Rather than accept these dreary circumstances, these young people are putting their education and their interests to work and earning their own way through the world. Generalizations are always unfair to some, but we are seeing a movement of millennials who absolutely do not fit the “lazy and entitled” label applied so carelessly to their generation.
- Second, we are beginning to sail into the uncharted waters of a post-baby boomer workforce. This will inevitably open doors for the underemployed, well-educated millennial workforce. However, not all industries and economic sectors will be impacted equally.
For every retiring civil servant in a government desk job, four or more millennials are already lined up to take the position. The millennial population ultimately eclipsed the baby boomers to become the largest generation born in U.S. history, so competition for these vacant positions is unlikely to decrease.
However, for retiring industrial and trade workers, the retiring baby boomer workforce is creating a shortage of skilled labor that the millennial generation is not currently equipped to address. We’ll explain how this is a good thing for you using a simple economic concept: market inefficiency.
How Market Inefficiency Applies to the Modern Labor Market
When private individuals evaluate the current marketplace of job opportunities, basic economic principles suggest each individual will choose a career path that:
- Minimizes the difficulty of finding full-time employment
- Maximizes their lifetime earning potential
If every individual behaves rationally, all available jobs would be filled by all available candidates.
Instead, we have seen a large number of individuals in the market pursue a career path with disproportionately few job openings. This puts a serious dent in lifetime earning potential when larger student loan debt is combined with low-wage employment for the graduates who can’t find a job related to their degree in their first few years in the real world. Your older brother with his political science degree is nodding his head right now, perhaps sadly.
Inefficiencies develop when the price one is willing to pay does not match the prevailing wisdom. The price in this case is the education or training one undertakes to ready themselves for the job market.
This suggests an inefficiency exists in the current job market, and indeed there is — high-paying skilled jobs that require training or certifications other than a bachelor’s degree. With all of the emphasis placed on getting into college to get a good-paying job, we have created a workforce that doesn’t fit what the current job market demands.
Non-Traditional Job Possibilities for Skilled Technicians
College isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. But if it doesn’t fit you, career possibilities are not at all diminished.
The baby boomer generation was the last group of young adults who didn’t see college as the most important step after high school graduation. In fact, it was this generation that created the mindset their kids had to go to a four-year school to get a good job. The theory was it would help their kids “have a better life” than they did.
This change in focus worked a little too well by the time it trickled down through the millennial generation, and we now face a tremendous shortage of skilled trade labor, a shortage that will only grow as the boomer generation retires en masse. The best time to address this shortage was probably about ten years ago. But, as the saying goes, the next best time is right now.
If you are contemplating your future and the thought of another four years of classes puts a pit in your stomach, we’re going to lay out the reasons why you would do well to consider a career in a skilled trade, such as industrial maintenance.
Labor Shortage in Skilled Trades
By now, it’s clear that the skilled trades are facing a shortage in manpower, but the numbers will put this shortage in vivid relief.
The skilled trades have been at the top of The Manpower Group’s annual list of hardest jobs to fill for six years running, after sitting at No. 3 for two years before that. And according to respondents to an annual survey, the top four reasons given for why employers are having such difficulty relate directly to a lack of skills and experience in the candidate pool.
All across the country, we are finding striking examples of the impact retirement will have on the local workforce:
- In Chicago, 29 percent of machinists are 55 years or older. This means that nearly a third of the workforce will be retiring in the next ten years or so, leaving a massive void for young machinists to fill.
- In Boston, 20 percent of all skilled trade workers are 55 or older, so the need for replacement workers will grow rapidly over the next decade there as well.
According to an EMSI study, electricians are the oldest population of skilled trades, with 38 percent of the workforce age 55 or older. That is a staggeringly large number of electricians who will be leaving the job in the next decade or so. The demand for electricians won’t diminish just because electricians are in short supply, so it will be up to the younger generations — the millennials and the generation after — to meet this demand. The same goes for all other skilled trades.
This is a subtle difference from traditional job growth statistics. The rate at which the demand for skilled technicians grows is unlikely to skyrocket in the same way that demand in the health care sector is taking off.
We aren’t facing an explosion in the size of the workforce overall. Rather, skilled tradespeople are an older population than the workforces of other industries, and they will be retiring in greater numbers than the rest. It’s this turnover that is causing the shortage, not a major change in the greater economic makeup of the country.
If we take all of this information together, the resulting picture is pretty clear. Pursuing a career in a skilled trade won’t guarantee you a job, because nothing in life is guaranteed. But the numbers speak for themselves.
Education for Skilled Trades
Many individuals don’t have the time or money to spend pursuing a four-year degree, so they either sacrifice some other area of their lives to be a full-time student for four years, or they rack up tens of thousands in debt that they’ll spend half their adult lives paying off.
Even if you have the luxury of devoting four years to your education, it’s worth asking yourself: Is that strictly necessary?
Generally, students pursuing a career in a skilled trade can complete the basic educational requirements in a year or less as a full-time student. That’s one year of tuition, one year of classes, and then you’re out in the workforce earning money.
At Vista College, you can complete an Electrical Technician Diploma in as little as 40 weeks. Our HVAC training program will take you less than a year of full-time coursework, and the 900 clock hours required to complete our Industrial Maintenance Mechanic Diploma works out to 18 hours a week for 50 weeks.
In the working world of the skilled trades, a piece of paper like a bachelor’s degree isn’t as relevant to your job prospects as your demonstrable skills and your years of experience. Why spend more time than you have to accruing education that isn’t going to translate directly into real-world income?
Proponents of the traditional four-year education will point to some studies that highlight the gap in earning potential that exists between four-year degrees and other types of education. Unfortunately, such a basic conclusion is so misleading as to be virtually useless.
For starters, these employment projections disclaim that “they do not take into account completion of training programs in the form of apprenticeships and other on-the-job training, which may also influence earnings and unemployment rates.”
In other words, they don’t capture a large portion of the workers in the skilled trades, who have attained education that does not fit into the categories reported. By completing a Diploma or Certification program, you are ahead of the game from step one. For example, according to the EMSI study:
- An average machinist in Houston, TX, makes $41,000 a year
- An experienced machinist in Houston, TX, earns $60,000
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average plumber made $50,000 a year in 2014 based on national averages, while HVAC technicians averaged $44,000, and electricians averaged $51,000 per year.
It is important to remember that these are median figures, so this is an indicator of long-term earning potential. At the start of your career you will certainly earn less, but by the end of your career you could be making much more.
A More Complete Picture of Earning Potential
It is also wise to acknowledge earning potential is only half of the personal wealth equation. The other half is much more damaging to a person’s long-term financial future: debt. Starting off your career with a better-paying job sure sounds great, but if you come out of college with $60,000 in debt plus interest, you start at a significant disadvantage. And this is even if you can find that better-paying job you were promised.
Contrast that scenario with that of an apprentice electrician. According to Payscale.com, the median wage for an apprentice electrician is $13 per hour. This may not sound like much, but an apprentice electrician is being paid for their professional education. What four-year-college will pay you to take classes and earn your degree? Even if you are lucky enough to earn a full-ride scholarship, you won’t walk away from college with money in your pocket.
Entering the workforce debt-free and gainfully employed is the new American Dream, and we are witnessing a significant shift in the conditions that can help you reach that dream.
So when we start to add things up, we can no longer assume that skilled tradesman will earn less in a lifetime than their counterparts with bachelor’s degrees. Better job prospects, competitive lifetime earnings projections, and much less student loan debt weighing down your early professional years — this is a recipe for a lucrative, rewarding career.
Making the Decision
We can show you trends and numbers all day long, but ultimately the decision is yours to make, one which, incidentally, may be one of the biggest ones you’ll ever make.
Now, we don’t want to make it sound like you are walking down a path from which you can never return. Plenty of professionals have switched careers after finding out that their first choice wasn’t working out the way they expected. After all, you are still young enough that you might not know what you want to do.
By now, however, you should have a pretty good idea of which direction you want to go. If you can’t wait to get out of school, and the thought of four more years of sitting in school makes you ill, getting into a skilled trade is a worthy alternative. Your skills will be in demand for a long time to come.
At Vista College, we offer excellent training and Diploma programs in a number of skilled trades and our programs are designed to get you out into the field with the necessary education and certifications in under a year. Contact an admissions representative today to find out what Vista College has to offer.