High-Paying Trade Jobs Sit Vacant Because Too Many Kids Are Going To College Instead

by Thea Glassman
Image via Berkut_34/Getty Images

Students are opting for college over high-paying trade jobs

There’s a ton of high-paying trade jobs that aren’t being filled because high school students are opting for the four-year college track. This presents a number of problems — both for young people, the trade job industry, and us as consumers.

A report from the Washington State Auditor found that high school graduates are being shepherded into college, without getting the opportunity to talk through other options. “There is an emphasis on the four-year university track,” Chris Cortines, co-author of the report, told NPR. “…When you look at the types of wages that apprenticeships and other career areas pay and the fact that you do not pay four years of tuition and you’re paid while you learn, these other paths really need some additional consideration.”

So, how much money are we talking exactly? Well, trade jobs like carpentry, plumbing, and pipe-fitting in Washington offer an average annual salary of $54,000, according to this new report. And yet, these industries are struggling to entice new workers to sign on. A 2017 report from the Associated General Contractors shows that 75% of contractors are having a hard time finding workers. This presents a real problem for the industry.

“In the short-term, fewer firms will be able to bid on construction projects if they are concerned they will not have enough workers to meet demand,” Stephen Sandherr, chief executive officer for the Associated General Contractors, explained. “Over the long-term, either construction firms will find a way to do more with fewer workers or public officials will take steps to encourage more people to pursue careers in construction.”

Meanwhile, a lack of workers in these fields could boost prices for customers. Meaning, hiring a plumber to fix your toilet could actually result in paying a much heftier check.

It’s not just the trade industry that’s hurting, though. Students are being completely sidled with college debt. A 2017 study found that a whopping 3.9 million students dropped out of college in 2015 and 2016. Student debt was at an all-time high of $1.3 trillion by the end of 2017. While trade jobs certainly might not be the answer for every high school graduate, they’re definitely an option for young people who want to avoid the cost of a four-year college and feel ready to dive into the workforce right away.

Plus, students have the option of entering a vocational school, which is shorter, cheaper, and offers more hands-on experience. If more young people decided to invest their future in trade jobs the United States could actually see a real economic shift, Joshua Aizenman, the economics chair at University of Southern California, told CNBC.

“There are too many four-year colleges serving too many students, and too few institutions with greater focus on vocational education and training,” he explained. “Chances are that better vocational education access and its quality in the U.S. would increase the income of the workers that are in manufacturing, and probably would reduce the overall income inequality in the US.”