College vs Trades – avg. electrician makes $5000 more than avg. college grad


Haley Hughes (right) and Kristen Sabino stand in the meter training room at an NStar learning facility. The two are part of an apprenticeship program with the utility company, something economists say the U.S. needs more of in order to fill open trade jobs. Photo Courtesy of Earl Benders

I’ve had this discussion with lots of my friends – too many people getting college degrees for jobs that are disappearing or pay so little as to be a joke. I keep pretty good tabs on trends in job creation and it’s primarily in 3 areas: STEM* (huge!! – and yet there are fewer women taking math than there were 20 years ago!), healthcare (all aspects) and master tradespeople e.g. welders, electricians, carpenters.  (My dad was a master welder so I have a real sweet spot for people becoming master craftspeople.)

*STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics

Several great articles recently have focused on the subject pointing out how millions of good-paying jobs are opening up in the trades with some paying better than what the average college graduate makes.

Another thing that’s great about learning high-skilled trades is that it’s a lot cheaper than a four-year college.

For example, NStar (utility company) is partnering with community colleges and offering students the opportunity to earn a two-year associate degree. Between scholarships and NStar paying some of the cost, the price tag works out to about $1,200 a semester which many young people pay themselves so they graduate debt-free. And after graduating, 90% of the students get jobs with NStar with starting base pay about $58,000 a year.

Now I know that on average, people with a four-year college degree make more money than those with a two-year degree. But there is plenty of nuance behind that truth.

“Averages lie,” says Anthony Carnevale, the director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, “the problem with those averages is that people who work at RadioShack or Target get lumped in with master carpenters and electricians”.

“You can get a particular skill in a particular field and make more than a college graduate,” he says. For example, the average electrician makes $5,000 a year more than the average college graduate. And the country is going to need a lot more skilled tradespeople.

For a long time, parents didn’t want their son or daughter to become a pipe fitter or welder, but now, the demand for non-college graduates with vocational skills is huge.

Entry-level welders can earn about $16.50 an hour. Experienced structural welders earn over $30, plus a per diem expense bonus. Specialty welders command $55 to $100 an hour, the upper end offered for someone, say, who can work underwater.

Links to full articles from Georgia Public Broadcasting and the NY Times here and here.

UPDATE: Link to CNN article from today on millennial jobs and payscales here. Definitely worth reading.

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