Niagara Gazette

Bob Confer

April 23, 2013

CONFER: Choosing a trade over a degree

Niagara Gazette — A conversation that I regularly have with parents of high schoolers centers on the job market that their children will enter. The post-recession economy is tough enough for mom and dad, so they can’t help but wonder what might be the best path of study for their kids to pursue in college and, in turn, what sort of career should they prepare for to ensure a comfortable adulthood.

It’s to the point now that in those conversations I deemphasize the importance of college and suggest that parents inspire their teens to go after a career that is not predicated on a college degree. Economic and employment trends are showing both immediate and long-term needs for skilled tradesman. A teenager would be far better off by abandoning the college preparatory, general education tract in high school and, instead, entering BOCES and/or preparing for trade school after graduating.

It’s an outcome of supply and demand; there’s just too much competition for a finite number of job openings that require college degrees to warrant an investment in a diploma.

This wasn’t always the case. Just a generation or two ago, the college-educated were at a premium and, accordingly, could fetch a premium. Following World War II, only 5 percent of Americans could claim a college degree. In 1970, only 26 percent of the middle class workforce had received any education beyond the twelfth grade. Now, more than 3 in 10 have a degree, while 70 percent of young Americans enter college within 2 years of their high school graduation.

Due to this glut of educated workers, employers either can’t match candidates to jobs for which they became enlightened (over-qualification) or they can command lower wages paid for college graduates than one would have assumed just a decade ago or what one expects based on the size of the post-secondary investment (those are the outcomes of over-supply).

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