1. Making the case for trades: Why getting hands-on in your career could pay off
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  • Making the case for trades: Why getting hands-on in your career could pay off

    By Sue Casement, 3M Storyteller

    Trades school grads like welders are in short supply

    • Experts have long agreed that getting a degree after high school is the smart way to go.

      Your employability and average income increase with education beyond high school. Even if you take out loans, the benefits are generally worth it – unemployment rates for college grads are 5 percent lower than those with just high school diplomas, according to CNN.

    • Chart showing jobs and workers by skill level

      However, many students automatically look at options for a four-year degree and don’t consider a two-year degree or certification in skilled trades.

      A close look at the data may convince you that a trade school or votech school is another good alternative. Skilled trades are typically jobs that require specialized training, including on-the-job training, apprenticeships or a formal vocational education, but not a bachelor’s degree. Data show that any advanced training beyond high school gives workers a leg-up, and there are some advantages to learning a trade instead of going for a four-year degree.

      1. Jobs in skilled labor are in demand

      There is increased demand for skilled workers that is not being filled by new workers. Many Baby Boomers working in skilled trades are retiring. At the same time, there is an increased demand for more jobs for construction workers, welders, machinists, plumbers and other similar professions. 62 percent of firms that hire skilled workers are struggling to fill their open positions, according to Adeccousa.com. And the National Skills Coalition shows that there is a higher need for medium-skill workers than either high-skill or low-skill jobs combined.

      Middle-skill jobs requiring training and education beyond high school – but not a four-year degree –are the most in-demand in the U.S. labor market. There is an 11 percent gap in jobs compared to available workers. For high-skill and low-skill jobs, there are more workers than open positions.

      2. Careers in skilled trades involve creativity and require new learning.

      New technology and learning consistently come into play in skilled trade jobs. Carpenters work with laptops and lasers. Workers use drones in construction and roofing. Electricians are installing and maintaining increasingly complex systems as technology continues to evolve. Creativity is often key to problem solving and identifying alternative solutions.

    “The engine of a vehicle can be as intricate as the inside of a human body.” – Mike Hall, auto repair shop owner

    • Inside a 3M manufacturing plant

      3. Many skilled trade jobs are not necessarily in a dirty environment or physically demanding.

      There are a wide variety of work environments that range from super clean to pretty gritty. You may work inside in a meticulously sterile environment, outside in the elements, or somewhere in between.

      4. You don’t need to grow up working in a shop and already be good with tools.

      Learning the tools is what school is for. Regardless of the subject, everyone comes into class with varying levels of experience and knowledge.

      5. Working in the trades can pay well.

      If you choose the right area of study, you will likely see a strong return on investment in your education, regardless of degree type. There are many two-year degrees that are in high demand and pay better than an average four-year degree. Not everyone enjoys working at a desk, so if you find hands-on work rewarding, choosing a trade may be a great choice. Many skilled trade jobs can provide a good income. For example, electrical and electronic technicians, medical technicians and architectural drafters all make above-average incomes. Don’t want to be indoors all day? Construction managers, landscape designers and commercial divers can be high-paying and are in demand.

    Chart showing average earnings in people after attending different types of schools

    • Chart showing the average cost of tuition at different types of schools

      Consider the cost of tuition. A two-year degree costs significantly less than a four-year degree. For tuition alone, a two-year degree will cost about $7,000 in total, but a four-year degree will range from an average of $40,000 to $140,000, depending on the type of institution. If you factor in the added cost of debt for student loans, the cost difference quickly becomes more significant.

      Votech and trade school graduates also typically start working at least two years earlier, and without significant student loan debt, meaning they could be able to start investing money for retirement or the purchase of a home years earlier.

    Explore skilled trades

    Going to school for a four-year degree isn’t for everyone, and working in trades or health care isn’t for everyone either. There are many options out there for choosing a career path. Ultimately, people should explore careers that will give them satisfaction. Learn more about trade skills.