June is graduation month and that means millions of newly minted high school graduates. In the past, many opted for post-secondary education. But the post-graduate avenues these young people will take are changing. And that’s good news for the construction industry which desperately needs workers, 650,000 to be exact. 

 

In the last two years, university enrollment has dropped significantly. According to National Student Clearing House Research Center, total postsecondary enrollment fell to 16.2 million in spring 2022, down 4.1% or 685,000 students from last year and down nearly 1.3 million students from 2020. Two-year community college programs are also declining, except for skilled trade programs. Reports have found that associate’s degree programs in HVAC and automotive repair have seen numbers swell.  

So why did graduates hesitate before the pandemic about going into trades? It could be due to pay misconceptions. Typically, young Americans don’t associate high pay and job security with trade schools. According to a Big Rentz survey, only 11% of young Americans think they can get a high-paying job after graduating from a trade school. And 54% of Americans think the trade school pay gap is higher than it really is.  

Despite these misconceptions, there are real, tangible benefits for students pursuing a trade and those advantages are starting to drive more enrollment in trade programs.   

Benefits of Going into a Trade 

While workers can get in on the ground floor of the construction industry without schooling, attending a trade school does offer additional training. There are several essential skills that a trade school can offer a new construction employee including: math, safety procedures, mechanical drawing, woodworking, surveying, cost estimating, blueprint reading, accounting, marketing and the list goes on. That’s not even mentioning the training required for specialized field services like HVAC, electrical, plumbing and masonry.  

Workers that attend trade schools over a four-year institution reap the rewards, according to the Big Renz survey. 

  • 27% of trade school graduates earn more money 
  • 21% are more likely to work in their field of study 
  • 4% have a higher employment rate 
  • $65,000 is the average salary for skilled trades 

Trade school programs are shorter. It may only take six weeks to complete a trade school program. Others take up to two years. That is quite a bit shorter than obtaining a four-year degree. Not only does trade school cost less than a university, $33,000 vs. $127,000, but a shortened timeline means trade school graduates can get on the job and start earning earlier.   

Trade school graduates have high pay potential. Construction and field services jobs have the potential to earn high salaries. According to Big Rentz, landscape designers can earn $63,000 a year and construction managers can earn $89,000 a year. And, unlike a four-year college degree, a trade school certification often guarantees a job, especially now that skilled labor is highly sought after.  

Trade school graduates have exceptional job possibilities. Job security is a huge advantage of attending a trade school. The labor shortage and mass retirement of Baby Boomers have put these jobs in high demand, and it’s anticipated that the demand will continue over time.  

How can the Construction Industry Promote Trade School Benefits? 

If misconceptions about pay and possibilities are what is keeping graduates from choosing a trade, the construction industry must be proactive about educating them about their opportunities. 

Talk to local high schools to ask about having a booth at career fairs or the opportunity to meet with students to discuss career paths. Companies can also create a scholarship specific to students entering a trade school to offset the costs of tuition. If a company scholarship is not possible, consider donating to a preexisting scholarship program like the MikeRoweWORKS scholarship. 

The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) also sees investing in skilled trades programs as crucial for addressing the shortage of qualified workers. The AGC states that the federal government only spends $1 on career training for every $6 it puts into college prep. And it’s this funding gap for career training that is one of the main reasons so many contractors have a low opinion of the current pipeline of construction professionals. 

Call your state and national representatives to advocate for education policies that are inclusive of the trades. Look for coalitions and initiatives that help provide opportunities for trade workers and veterans, who could also be part of the solution and ask how to help them. 

The future is bright for 2022 graduates, especially if they know a trade school program can give them a great head start to a prosperous career.