Service jobs vs. trades: Who earns what?
In the labor market battle of services versus trades, blue-collar employers are losing big.
A new survey shows many young people would prefer to be a low-paid barista than a welder on a family wage.
The online poll of more than 500 men and women, ages 18 to 24, showed that many young people do not give serious consideration to enrolling in trade school as a path to landing a stable, well-paying job. The poll was conducted by Metals Supermarket, which supplies metals to shops and factories nationwide.
In fact, many of them are unaware that the trades are an option.
The survey found that "even in the face of growing tuition rates that can saddle students with years of debt, many people believe graduating from a four-year college is their only way to a successful future."
They were unaware that trade school benefits include less student debt and quicker entry into the workforce than the four-year college route.
Less debt, more pay
Student Loan Hero reports that 69% of students from the Class of 2018 took out student loans, graduating with an average debt balance of $29,800. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of the recent survey respondents believed that student debt was the price you pay for a college education.
According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, the average trade school degree costs $33,000, compared to a $127,000 bachelor's degree.
The U.S. Department of Education reports people with trade and technical educations are slightly more likely to be employed than their counterparts with academic credentials, and they're significantly more likely to be working in their fields of study.
"Despite skyrocketing student loan debt and the growing global demand for skilled trade positions with great job security, most young people still believe attending traditional college is the only route to a successful future," said Stephen Schober, president and CEO of Metal Supermarkets.
"What they don't seem to know is that attending a trade school is a great option for students who want to learn a craft, enter the workforce earlier than others, and carry less student debt. It is also a path to a great career and a potentially high-paying career."
That bachelor's degree may only lead to coffee shop work.
According to an AfterCollege student report, only 28% of college seniors had a job lined up in the spring of 2018. Conversely, there is a critical need for skilled workers, with much of the nation's aging infrastructure requiring skilled workers to rebuild bridges, highways and buildings.
Despite this demand, the American Welding Society predicts a shortage of more than 450,000 skilled welding professionals by 2022.
"We need to build awareness about the amazing opportunities that exist in the trades. We need to fill the growing shortage of skilled workers in the U.S. and let students know that they do not have to drown in student loan debt by attending a traditional college. We hope to see more students considering trade schools and the rewarding careers that come with it," Schober said.
Metal shop or coffee shop?
Dwayne Swenson, the franchise owner of Metal Supermarkets in Portland, said he has a manufacturing customer — Eagle Beverage of Kent, Washington — that makes biodegradable straws and coffee syrups. The company's engineers design bottling systems that can move syrups down 300 feet of pipe.
"Most of the food people are suffering a shortage of that type of person," Swenson said. "There are so many capable people in the Kent area and good 'vo-tech' (vocational-technical) trade schools, but we have so many people who are always on the hunt for qualified workers. The welders they have in that area are quality. They just don't have enough of them."
Manufacturing has been in an uptick for the past few years. Still, places such as robotics schools have had a hard time trying to "entice young men and women that manufacturing is sexy, interesting and engaging."
Swenson thinks the attraction of being a barista is that you don't get dirty.
"My perception is they don't know about the potential pay levels in the trades. The medical and dental and all the benefits."
(Some low-paid service jobs have other advantages, such as being social, and allowing people to be on their phones in their downtime.)
An attraction of manufacturing is that you make a tangible product.
"To me, it's like farming. We're working with the working class, and it's enjoyable."
From oil to franchisee
Swenson started in the oil industry moving rigs, but went on to business school and became an accountant for a retail company in Canada. He got into Metal Supermarkets as a franchisee.
He now sees companies working on shearing and plasma cutting. Unlike making coffee, he sees longevity in the manufacturing industry.
"As long as you're not welding toxic materials," he joked. "Right now, manufacturers are trawling for people who take pride in the product. They're seeking those people out."
He has had electricians and plumbers work in his home, and they said they are starving for quality people.
"And trade schools will put you through school with no debt, and you have a job at the end of the day."
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