Published on 2012/07/16

Trade Schools: Still a Viable Alternative?

With such a great need for highly skilled laborers, trade schools are becoming a more viable option for prospective adult students. Photo by Photo by Jo Guldi.

Is a trade school diploma as good as a college degree?

As many adults without a college degree struggle to find better than minimum wage employment, they ask themselves “will a trade school diploma help me?”

Even those with college diplomas—but not science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) majors—who have been unable to find steady employment may also be asking the same question. If I can get financial help, but not enough for a $150,000 four year degree, can a certified trade school degree help me? The answer is: of course! But deciding on which trade and which certification provider requires wise choosing.

With emphasis on building or rebuilding bridges, roads, and infrastructure, more civil and structural engineers will be needed globally. As such, the demand for skilled welders and electricians, and other trade-workers in energy, steel and mechanical manufacturing will be greater. This is even more true in emerging consumer markets like Brazil, Philippines, and Southeast Asia.

Are our state educational systems aware that not everyone wants to go to college or earn a four or five year diploma? How are we meeting this demand or is all of our education focused on university systems with four year degree programs? These are good questions you should be asking locally.

Lots of adults are and will need to return to gaining skills from public and for-profit institutions. Some skilled positions in sophisticated electrical systems, welding, commercial construction and energy are in short supply and can be taught at trade schools. Health industry technicians are also in short supply.

There are several reports of a high percentage of these graduates with associate or skills achievement diplomas having jobs waiting for them. Some employers have hundreds of openings for these positions, waiting to be filled by trained, highly-skilled workers. They need these skilled workers and, as such, starting wages can be double those of the best paying non-technical jobs. For example; starting wages for trade school graduates range from $17.00 to $35.00 per hour… versus $7.00 to $15.00 for the best of the jobs that are often 100 applicants for one job.

For those who didn’t attend college or attain a diploma, going back to school isn’t so simple. You will be making sacrifices with family and friends because you may have forgotten how to learn and to comprehend what you have learned in order convert knowledge to marketable skills. There will also be costs that require you to find some minimum wage work to get though your education program without rolling up an enormous debt. Study habits will be hard to maintain if you have young children at home. These are realities in the pursuit of improved marketable skills.

It is easier to talk through what you are about to do with family and friends before you embark on a re-education journey. This will help students gain a support system to help get through the tough times. The good news is the hard work and long hours will pay off in allowing you opportunities to support your family and open doors to greater opportunities that may have been closed to you heretofore.

Some larger enterprises offer training through their corporate university if you do not meet all the requirements for a job opening but have most of the experience or other certifications. This is a much higher bar to overcome with the resume and recruiting process moving more toward on-line and social networking, but there are still some opportunities open—they’re just harder to find.

For those with a non-STEM degree who have been unemployed for a while, a trade certification as described may be an option for you. A better option is to do your due diligence and determine how many credits you need to achieve a degree in a second major or a STEM degree. It may not be that much of a hurdle, but you too will be going back to the books, even if you have been in the workforce for a while. Another option would be getting some advice from a mentor or coach within your company. If you have a corporate university, will taking some internal courses specific to your firm or industry adjust your career path?

In all cases, the reality is we will all need to remain open to and keep acquiring new information and learning that increases our value as human capital. The skills and talent shortage will only worsen over the next two decades. The good news for keeping up is the desire for your employer to retain you. Recent studies now support the idea that the value of retaining skilled human capital trumps costs.

The stakes are high and those willing to enhance their value with continuous learning will be sought after. Don’t fall behind. Assess your situation. Get a good assessment of your current skills from the many providers on the web and set forth a working plan to get the skills you need to stay at least even with the exponential growth of knowledge.

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Readers Comments

Rebecca Cruser 2012/07/16 at 6:15 am

My question is this: when have trade schools not been a viable option for individuals looking to learn a skill and enter a trade?

Mike Hammer 2012/07/28 at 12:34 pm

Easy answer Rebecca — only when a high school diploma wasn’t good enough to get a job. Yes, trade schools have always been there, but now becomes a choice by necessity rather than option for many. Many of the schools referred to are realively new with more current focus on skills in demand.

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