Tens of thousands of high-paying blue-collar jobs that don’t require a college degree are unfilled because too many people think college is necessary, according to the Hechinger Report.
“While a shortage of workers pushes wages higher in the skilled trades, the financial return from a bachelor’s degree is softening, even as the price, and the average debt into which it plunges students, remain high,” it noted.
So many high school graduates have been coached and primed to get a four-year college degree that highly paid jobs requiring less expensive and time-consuming training remain unfilled. That “poses a real threat to the economy,” according to the Hechinger Report, which focuses on news about colleges.
High-school students have been instilled with the erroneous belief that college “is the sole path for everybody,” says Chris Cortines, co-author of a report on Washington state career and tech education programs. “There’s an emphasis on the four-year university track” in high schools across the country, he said. However, “when you look at the types of wages that apprenticeships and other career areas pay, and the fact that you do not pay four years of tuition and you’re paid while you learn, these other paths really need some additional consideration,” Cortines said.
Most trade employers do require some training, according to the Hechinger Report. But those qualifications typically cost a lot less and take much less time than a bachelor’s degree.
Nine in ten contractors have difficulty finding craft workers and more than six in ten firms reported delays due to workforce shortages, according to a news release two years ago from the Associated General Contractors of America.
The country needs more ironworkers, drywall installers, and sheet metal workers, in particular, notes to the Hechinger Report.
Ironworkers earned an average of $57,160 per year, according to the most recent year for which data was available. The average is probably higher today, due to inflation. Median wages for construction workers are now higher than the median pay for all jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“Half of payroll workers in construction earn more than $49,030 and the top 25% make at least $68,690 [in 2020],” noted the National Association of Home Builders in 2021. By contrast, in 2020 the U.S. median wage was $39,810.
Earlier, the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce reported that 30 million jobs in the United States that paid an average of $55,000 per year didn’t require bachelor’s degrees. It’s probably at least $60,000 now, due to inflation since that average was calculated.
In response to growing shortages of skilled blue-collar workers, 39 states had begun encouraging career and technical education, and many have increased funding for these pathways, according to a 2017 Brookings Institution report.
But such efforts remain modest, and the federal government and the Biden administration have done little to fill growing shortages of skilled blue-collar workers.
Finally, last month, legislation was introduced in Congress would make some shorter post-high school workforce programs eligible for federal Pell Grants, reducing the federal bias in favor of college and against trade schools. “For too long, the college-for-all mentality drove Americans toward expensive and often ineffective education pathways,” noted the bill’s sponsors. “As our country stares down a historic worker shortage, fewer Americans are getting the skills they need to be successful.”