Gen Zers Shunning College to Take Up Traditional Trades

Increasing numbers of Generation Z are opting out of college and turning to vocational trades with hopes of higher wages and avoiding student debt, data shows.

Young people who came of age during the pandemic said they have been deterred from four-year universities amid fears over skyrocketing tuition rates.

Instead, they are attending trade schools and are being enticed by well-paying job opportunities and satisfying work.

Largely left on their own amid remote learning, many felt they weren’t learning enough, and the idea of four more years of school – or even two – held little appeal.

“This generation is different,” said Jamia Stokes, a senior director at SCORE, an education nonprofit. “They’re more pragmatic about the way they work, about the way they spend their time and their money.”

The Value of Hands-on Work

There was a 23 percent increase in students studying construction trades in 2023 compared to the year before, and a seven percent increase in HVAC and vehicle maintenance and repair programs.

For students who are hands-on learners or interested in things that don’t require college, they can take classes at a local tech school and start out making more after one year of on-the-job training than many college graduates make after four years of higher education.

“It’s a really smart route for kids who want to find something and aren’t gung ho on going to college,” welding program graduate Tanner Burgess, 20, told The Wall Street Journal.

“It feels good at the end of the day, I’m physically doing something and there’s a sense of completion.”

Daniel Moody, 19, was recruited as a plumber after graduating from a Memphis high school in 2021. Now earning $24 an hour, he’s glad he passed on college.

“If I would have gone to college after school, I would be dead broke,”he said. “The type of money we’re making out here, you’re not going to be making that while you’re trying to go to college.”

College Degrees Losing Value

Americans have lost confidence in the value of a college degree, with many suggesting they are unsure that the cost of an education is worth it.

A Gallup poll published in July 2023 found that the share of Americans who trusted higher education fell from 57 percent in 2015 to 36 percent in 2023.

The pay in the professional trades sector is better than what a lot of people with college degrees earn, plus they have no student debt from a useless degree. Seems like a no-brainer considering how the nation’s student debt has soared.

Over 43 million Americans owe a collective $1.3 trillion in student loan debt, with the average borrower owing $37,000, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Gen-Zers are entering the trades to make money, with many posting online about the large salaries they make in fields like welding and plumbing.

According to data from payroll-services provider ADP, the median pay for new construction hires was $48,089 last year, compared to $39,520 for professional services new hires.

The Future of Vocational Trades

Software company Jobber surveyed 1,000 high school and college-age students in July 2023 and found that 56 percent of respondents believe that “blue-collar” jobs have more job security than “white-collar” desk jobs when it comes to AI.

Technology is going to make many college degrees obsolete. They will only need college educated people to make certain the computers work. Meanwhile, a plumber or lineman who never went to college can earn a high six-figure salary.

Alezet Valerio, 18, who started working at a construction site right after graduating high school, told The Wall Street Journal she loves her job and finds it rewarding.

“It’s not at all what I was expecting. I’m building skyscrapers and building a career out of it,” she said.

Business opportunities were also important to survey respondents, and nearly two-thirds said they want to start their own business at some point in their lives.

Colby Dell, 19, is attending trade school for automotive repair and hopes to open his own mobile detailing company.

“I always thought it was a hobby. Looking into these vocational schools, I realized it was a dream I could really pursue,” he said.

Keep in mind, most professional trades require good math and language skills, which is what differentiates the skilled trades from manual labor.



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