A collective gasp fills the room.
Wherever you’re from, whenever you’ve grown up, it’s always been the same story from your parents and your teachers:“Go to college or else you’ll be stuck working minimum wage and have no hope for your future.” It’s completely indoctrinated.
You hear it everywhere, but most have no desire to be a doctor for lawyers by day and a CEO of Rocket Science by night. They’re eager to get working right away, instead of going thousands of dollars in debt to get stuck working most of their life to pay it off. A valid thought, but statistics don’t lie.
It Makes a Difference
Post-secondary education is necessary to ensure a higher standard of living. The national economy is getting more and more competitive. The respectable factory jobs that anyone could get right out of high school just aren’t around any more. Companies are looking for people with expertise to help them stay on the cutting edge. Income inequality in America is already pretty severe and only getting worse, and it’s not something that a new law could fix easily.
The biggest factor in one’s wealth and income throughout their life is training and education level. Statistically, a higher education makes for a higher income. Current data shows that someone with a masters degree would earn about double of a high school graduate throughout their lifetime. Inversely, a lower education makes for a lower income, earning a high school drop out at around 70% of someone with a GED. If Americans want to ensure a comfortable life, then they need a higher education.
That being said, they may have already decided that they don’t want to go to college, and for very valid reasons. It’s natural for anyone to hesitate to go deeply in debt, even for the promise of higher pay. In most cases, the added earnings offset the extreme cost of education, but it would be naive to say that the pay in every field can be significantly improved by a college degree.
College isn’t Always the Answer
If someone knows that they want to go into business, finance, law, med, etc., then by all means. My purpose is not to talk people out of going to college. If it’s their plan to go to a university and get a job that requires a degree, far be it from me to discourage that.
However, for folks with a high school diploma in one hand and a job application in the other, they’ll need a little something more. The view our society supports right now makes it seem like it’s college or work. That’s the way we’ve been conditioned to view the situation, at least, but here’s the game-changer: it’s not an all-or-nothing scenario.
For those who know that they would be better off with more education but find themselves reluctant to spend the time and money, most economists and financial advisors would wholeheartedly recommend going to a trade school.
There are plenty of careers that pay a lot better than bagging at Kroger and don’t need a full on college-level education. Environmental conservation, construction management, electrical engineering, landscape design, mechanics, home inspection, even commercial diving. There’s a middle tier that is left underdeveloped because college graduates go elsewhere and GED folks have a hard time getting there. A trade school education is the key that unlocks this tier without draining time, energy, and bank account.
Going to a trade school isn’t free, but costs almost a fourth of the average college degree. What’s more, students can join the workforce within the same year and begin their next level career.
To be fair, with a high school diploma, one wouldn’t be stuck with a minimum wage job until old age. Eventually, it becomes possible to work up to $10, $12, maybe $15 an hour. So let’s do the math. $15 for 40 hours a week, then for 52 weeks. That comes out to $31,200 a year, assuming that a week is never missed and hours can always be maxed. The diagram above shows $42,000 as the average entry salary. Even if the trade school statistics are 40% wrong, it’s entirely possible to earn $15 per hour at the age of 18 with the training. To work up to $15 an hour from minimum wage without a trade school education would take a few very devoted years, if their job would even let the employees reach that. Typically, satisfaction in these careers decreases as employees feel the weight of stagnation set in.
As an extreme example, let’s look at an entire state: the state of West Virginia. It’s home to a proud, rich heritage and beautiful mountains as far as the eye can see. Unfortunately, that hasn’t saved them from a rapidly-developing employment crisis. Coal mining is the third-biggest industry in the state, and West Virginia’s coal production is second only to Wyoming. Now those mines are closing. A USA Today report from 2016 captured the severity of the problem, noting that, “Peabody’s bankruptcy filing follows at least 50 in the industry over the last few years … The state’s economy has already lost more than 35% of its coal jobs since 2011 — and that number is expected to continue rising.” Conditions continue to worsen every month.
With no better prospects, the former miners are fleeing the state in search of employment. Workers have to uproot their lives and leave their homes just so they can pay their bills. What’s more, since this is going on every day on a large scale, the state itself is losing its workforce and the citizens that make up its lifeblood.
The same thing happens in small towns all across America: the companies they’ve worked for their entire lives closes, and suddenly they have no prospects. A vast majority of workers in a small town without a postsecondary education never fully recover from a loss like that.
Overcome and Band Together
This can be avoided, and no American need be the victim. The goal for West Virginia, for the nation, and for individuals themselves should be to increase education. Not only will each citizen who attends a trade school be able to increase their standard of living, but it would make the nation stronger as a whole. Unemployment would decrease, productivity would increase, and theoretically the nation would be more resilient in the face of recessions.
The term “creative destruction” refers to what happens when companies or entire industries become obsolete. They are dismantled to make way for something bigger and better. Society as a whole may be better off, but the victims of the process (employees and business owners) are left broke and discouraged. Typically, this is the reason recessions are exacerbated. However, if these laid off individuals have expertise they could take from one field to the next, then the length and severity of the recession ought to be shorter. The hard times may not become less frequent, but they would almost certainly be less severe. Each person has the potential to make the nation stronger, no matter who is at the helm or what policies fail for the foreseeable future.
That being said, trade schools receive a negative stigma, so attendance has remained relatively stagnant. The recent headlines have kept our concern with the national government, but we now have to focus on our state legislatures. The state’s role will be to subsidize the construction of trade schools and to work with industry leaders in each region to create reliable and useful curriculums. The government would be wise to look to those whose experience is directly relevant. These captains of industry would even be willing to appoint a few teachers if they get a chance to recruit graduates. That would give the government a successful program, businesses a stronger hiring pool, and workers a higher income, resilience to recessions and low debt, all at the age of 18.
For trade schools to be normalized and for every party to win, there will be a lot of work to erase the stigma. This change starts with people across the nation. To remain strong and resilient in the face of downturns, our workforce needs more transferrable skills. If trade schools and programs like them are to become a part of common life, the goal of every American institution should be to make the benefits clear and widely known. Once the first wave of trailblazers go through, others will follow. It won’t be a quick and easy fix, but together we might just create something bigger than ourselves.
Infographic courtesy of workforceunderconstruction.com