Friday, June 29, 2018

Never overlook vocational training

Be it through the Boy Scouts or numerous school tours at the factory, conversations that I regularly have with high schoolers center on the job market. They can’t help but wonder what might be the best path of study and, in turn, what sort of career should they prepare for to ensure a comfortable adulthood.

For years, I have been suggesting that many should go after a career that is not predicated on a college degree. Economic and employment trends both show immediate and long-term needs for skilled tradesman. A teenager would be far better off by abandoning the college preparatory, general education tract in high school and, instead, entering BOCES and/or preparing for trade school after graduation.

It’s an outcome of supply and demand; there’s just too much competition for a finite number of job openings that require college degrees to warrant the mindset that everyone needs a diploma.

This wasn’t always the case. Just a generation or two ago, the college-educated were at a premium and, accordingly, could fetch a premium. Following World War II, only 5 percent of Americans could claim a college degree. In 1970, only 26 percent of the middle class workforce had received any education beyond the twelfth grade. Now, more than 3 in 10 have a degree, while 70 percent of young Americans enter college within 2 years of their high school graduation.

Due to this glut of educated workers, employers either can’t match candidates to jobs for which they became enlightened or they can dole-out lower wages for college graduates.

Newspapers have been chock full of reports of college graduates having to accept what they perceive to be menial jobs since businesses in their career field aren’t hiring while many more have had to move back into their family’s homes to make ends meet, inspiring the title of the “Boomerang Generation”. Roughly half of college graduates are working jobs that don't require a degree while 34 percent of adults aged 18 to 34 live with their parents.

It doesn’t help that they leave college with an average of $30,000 in bills. Without the job opportunities to make good on the alleged potential they have, they are saddled with the burdensome debt for a while, which is why total college debt in America exceeds $1.2 trillion.

While the reality of the economy paints a grim picture for young college-educated Americans, that same economy paints a rosy picture for their peers who instead opted for tax-payer funded in high school or paid a nominal fee to a trade school.

Teens and young adults who develop vocational skills see immediate rewards, long-term gain, and stability because they are marketable, in demand, and in relatively low supply.    

A perfect example is machinists. Numerous studies have found that in upwards of 400,000 manufacturing jobs across the United States remain unfilled due to the lack of qualified candidates. As for being “qualified”, a college degree doesn’t cut it – but a certificate from a trade school does. High school seniors who took machining are guaranteed a job immediately upon graduation and, in most cases, were claimed by area machine shops and factories in their junior year. A young machinist, fresh out of high school, could command a starting pay in the range of $15 to $20 per hour throughout upstate New York, more if he left the area.

Those who pursue nursing, either in high school or afterwards, also face a welcoming job market. Due to the aging Baby Boomer population and the stress it places on the health industry, there will be a nursing shortage over the next decade and beyond when demand is expected to outstrip supply. Licensed Practical Nurses earn an average of $42,400. Those wages are expected to rise with demand. Plus, the role of LPN is often used as a stepping stone for those looking to become Registered Nurses who bring in an average salary of $69,000.

We can’t forget truck drivers, either. Someone who invests $2,500 to $4,000 into a CDL will find himself desirable: there are literally hundreds of thousands of openings for drivers nationally and that mismatch of supply versus demand will be in favor of the licensed drivers for the long haul as a good portion of truck drivers are entering their retirement years.  Because of that, the starting salary for truck drivers ranges from $38,000 for local work to $45,000 for over-the-road haulers. Experienced long-distance drivers net $75,000 and many top out at $100,000.

It’s not surprising that trade certificates earn just as much as – and, in most cases, even more than – college diplomas. The opportunity is there. You just have to take advantage of it. We should encourage our kids to do just that.

From the 02 July 2018 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

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