Why Gen Z Is Embracing Trades and Vocational Learning Over A College Education - The Average Joe

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    Why Gen Z Is Embracing Trades and Vocational Learning Over A College Education

    Noah Weidner

    June 24, 2024

    Remember when everyone would tell you once you had a degree, you’d be set for life? Turns out, they meant you’d be set for a lifetime of disappointment instead. Back in 2009, over 70% of recent high school grads attended college. Today, enrollment is down over 15% from its peak, with more students opting for trade jobs over office gigs. Not even cringey TikToks from the Big Four accounting firms can convince them otherwise…

    Career detour: In a recent survey, over half of Americans said they believe a college degree isn’t worth it. Many young people are taking their high school diplomas straight into the workforce, embracing on-the-job training and trade work. These options offer disillusioned new grads an alternative to a costly college degree — one that pays now, not later.

    • According to WSJ’s Te-Ping Chen, a shortage of skilled laborers has pushed up wages — with some industries like construction now paying new hires more than professional services workers.
    • The trades, once seen as “dirty” or “low-end work,”, have gained new appeal thanks to technology.

    Jack of All Trades

    Today, more than half of workers aged 25-34 do not have a four-year degree — a trend expected to continue if new grads keep choosing alternative education. However, based on historical data, college earners make over double what their non-degree-holding colleagues make. So why is Gen Z choosing a new path?

    • Layoffs at large employers and a weaker hiring market for white-collar workers have forced young people to reconsider the job stability and opportunities available to graduates.
    • A new study shows that 52% of new graduates end up underemployed one year after graduation — while about a third of US companies have dropped degree requirements.

    Pay up, or get paid: After four years and tens of thousands in tuition, APLU finds that you could make a median starting salary of $60K — or spare the time and expense with a trade gig. According to Indeed, high-paying trade jobs include dental hygienist ($99K/yr), construction manager ($88K/yr), and aircraft mechanic ($82K/yr). Moreover, President Biden says there are thousands more high-paying jobs that don’t require a degree, suggesting that you could end up wealthier and wiser without the cap and gown.

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