We often hear people say college isn’t for everybody. True.
And the reality in our region and nationally is that college may not be for most people, at least when it comes to learning the skills and technologies necessary to build a successful, long-term career in today’s economy.
Think of the people you know who are unemployed, underemployed or just plain unhappy with what they do for a living. Yes, many have college degrees. And, because of the premise that a college degree is necessary to be successful, an estimated 65 percent of high school seniors will enroll in four-year college programs this year even though only 25 percent of them will graduate. That represents a lot of wasted time and money.
Among those who do graduate, many will have earned degrees that leave them with few if any employable skills based on the types of jobs now being created. The dynamics of post-secondary education have changed. We need to accept this state of affairs and address workforce development, training and education to meet the realities of today and tomorrow – not hold on to outdated assumptions that a four-year college degree is necessary to launch a successful, fulfilling, well-paying career.
In his presentation “Success in the New Economy,” Kevin Fleming, CEO of consulting firm Telos Educational Services, notes a Harvard study that predicts only 33 percent of available jobs in 2018 will require a four-year degree or more, while 57 percent will require a technical certificate, a similar credential or an associate degree. Only 10 percent of jobs will be classified as unskilled.
As Mr. Fleming said, “… Sending more and more students to colleges and universities is not going to change the types of jobs in demand in our economy.”
As community and business leaders, parents and educators, we need to encourage our recent and upcoming high school graduates, and those who continue to look for the “right” career, to consider apprenticeship programs, such as those offered by the commercial construction trades in our region.
With 16 training centers and 23 career paths in Western Pennsylvania, the construction trades offer vast opportunities for those who want to create a life-long career. In many of the programs, you also can earn college credits toward an associate degree and move into a four-year program if that’s your desire.
There are literally thousands of opportunities!
Unlike college or for-profit technical schools, building trades training is cost-free; it’s paid for by trade unions and contractors. And apprentices are paid as much as three times the minimum wage in the first year and earn health and pension benefits immediately. Think of that — free education, an hourly rate equal to or greater than most college graduates, benefits and no educational debt!
There is some classroom learning, but apprentices spend most their training on the job site. They work daily with skilled journeymen to construct the infrastructure, office buildings, mixed-use developments, power plants and manufacturing and industrial facilities that are critical to our region’s continued growth. All the while, they build careers that will be satisfying financially and provide a tremendous feeling of pride.
The Builders Guild encourages anyone seeking a meaningful, well-paying career to be proud of to visit www.buildersguild.org and click the career link at the top of the page. This will provide information and links to the 16 Joint Apprenticeship Training programs offered by the construction trades and contractors in our region.
Jeff Nobers is executive director of the Builders Guild of Western Pennsylvania, a labor/management initiative to create career opportunities while promoting quality construction and labor/management cooperation (firstname.lastname@example.org).