workers hard hats

While many college graduates have been experiencing difficulty finding well-paying jobs in the last years, trade school graduates are actually in high demand in this challenging job market. A 2012 survey by ManpowerGroup indicates that employers are desperately seeking skilled-trades workers while there’s a significant skills gap on the market.

According to data from 2012 by the EMSI, 53% of skilled-trade workers in the U.S. were 45 years or older and 18.6% were between the ages of 55 and 64. In comparison, only 44% of the overall workers were 45 years or older and 15.5% were between 55 and 64 years old. In some parts of the country, such as the Northeast and Midwest, a whopping 60% of skilled-trades workers are over 45 years old. These numbers are even more astounding considering the fact that the skilled trades have much less 65-and-older workers than the overall labor force (1.9% compared to 4.8%), as skilled trade jobs are more physically demanding than most other occupations.

The gap between the skills that employers seek and available workers possess is predicted to be widening even more in the next years. One of the major reasons for this growing shortage of skilled-trade workers is the fact that over the last two to three decades, the American educational system has been pushing students towards completing a 4-year college degree. However, just as welding or masonry training isn’t the right choice for everybody, a degree in English or Physics doesn’t match every student’s skill set.

"For two or three generations, the focus has been to go to college, get a degree and in doing so you will ensure a brighter future with more access to employment," Dr. Genevieve Stevens, interim dean of instruction for Houston Community College at Central College told the Houston Chronicle. "We started focusing on academic instruction, but left behind the notion of work-force education. However, in a two-year institution that costs less, the average work-force student can come out of that program with skills to gain immediate employment."

Russell Hamley, president of Associated Builders and Contractors Inc., told the paper that a construction tradesperson with a good work ethic can make as much money or even more as somebody working in a job that requires a college degree. This is particularly true for those who work in highly skilled trades. According to Hamley, experienced electricians make about $30 an hour while welders can get about $35 or more, excluding overtime. "It's not uncommon to hear of welders earning over $100,000," he added.

Aside from promising job opportunities, skilled-trade jobs offer quite a number of benefits, as Tulsa Welding School points out. Most training programs are short, which allows graduates to enter the workforce quicker than their college-attending peers. Furthermore, skilled trade workers are sought after across the country, so those who successfully completed their training will have a lot of flexibility in their job search. Many occupations in the skilled trades, like construction, offer plenty of variety: Unlike a typical office job, a skilled-trade job lets individuals work with their hands, solve problems, think creatively and (often) work outdoors. There are also a number of advancement opportunities in the skilled trades, as workers can usually take more advanced classes and obtain further certifications to improve their earning power and enhance professional longevity.

Among the sectors that have been hiring the most in recent years are energy extraction and construction. Since 2010, energy extraction added 50,000 and construction gained about 200,000 jobs. Overall, the number of high-value manufacturing jobs reached 167,000 in the 52 largest metropolitan areas in the U.S. since 2010. The five metro areas with the strongest growth in skilled-trade jobs within the last three years are Houston, Oklahoma City, Detroit, Grand Rapids and Nashville. The highest paying skilled-trade careers include electrician, electrical and electronics repairer, boilermaker, locomotive engineer, plumber/pipefitter/ steamfitter, brickmason/blockmason, and millwright.

In a time where opportunities and wages for college graduates are shrinking, young people are well advised to consider obtaining a skilled-trade certificate instead of a college degree, particularly if it would be a better fit regarding their personal preferences and professional goals.