Skilled trade jobs go unfilled in our robust economy

Print Article

Don C. Brunell

Millions of college graduates find themselves saddled with crushing debt and more than a third of them won’t be working in their chosen profession. Many will be working for low wages.

Meanwhile, there are millions of high-paid jobs available in the skilled trades – electricians, plumbers, manufacturing workers, pipefitters, mechanics, appliance repair, computer techs, medical assistants and welders. Known as blue collar jobs, they routinely pay $45,000 to $65,000 a year or more. According to Salary.com, the average heavy equipment operator in Seattle earns more than $95,000 a year in wages and benefits.

From 2016 to 2021, job openings in manufacturing, production, installation, maintenance and repair are projected to outstrip the supply of skilled workers by three-to-one. To compete, many employers are not only providing scholarships, but are also paying students to attend a technical school and offering internships.

They are stepping up their recruitment of military men and women leaving active duty because of their experience, training and dependability.

Why is there a shortage of skilled craft workers? One reason, we’ve tended to look down on those jobs.

My father, for example, inadvertently perpetuated that attitude. As a World War II vet, he used the GI bill to become an electrician. Even though he rose to the rank of master electrician and made a good living for his family, he pushed his kids to go to college. Despite his accomplishments, he felt a trade school education was second best.

True, studies show that, over a lifetime, college degrees may translate into higher incomes. But as they say, the devil is in the details.

First, you have to factor in the crushing burden of student loans, which often take years to repay. In fact, the average student loan debt continues to grow. (Class of 2016 graduates was $37,172, up 6 percent from the previous year).

Americans now owe over $1.48 trillion in student loans that is spread out among 44 million borrowers. That’s $620 billion more than the total U.S. credit card debt, the website Student Loan Hero recently reported. Now, the average monthly student loan payment (for borrower aged 20 to 30 years) is $351.

In many cities housing costs alone have escalated to the point that grads are either forced to share cramped quarters or move back home. As of June 2017, average apartment rent in Seattle was $2210 a month.

The Gazette-Review in Minneapolis pegs the average 2018 college grad will earn $50,000 annually.

“However, one should take this number with a great deal of salt. A diploma alone won’t secure this sort of salary in many cases, as there are many other factors to take into account,” it reported last week. Graduates with math, engineering, science and technical degrees fare better than those who majored in the liberal arts.

Mike Rowe, who hosted the Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs,” says we need to hit the reset button on higher education. He argues we should not be lending money to students who have no hope of paying it back. Rowe believes many of the best career opportunities today require a skill, not a diploma.

To expand those opportunities, Rowe founded the mikeroweWORKS Foundation that awards trade school and apprenticeship program scholarships to young people who show both an interest and an aptitude for mastering a specific trade.

It doesn’t make sense for our country to primarily focus on college education when half of our career opportunities are for skilled workers. Ironically, in the real world, one of those trade school graduates will be called to the apartment of a struggling college grad to fix their plumbing for $200 an hour.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.

Print Article

Read More Editorials

New approaches needed to fight super wildfires

May 13, 2018 at 5:00 am | The Royal Register With western wildfires growing in size and destroying more homes, farms and businesses, there is a need for new tools and approaches. The infernos are spreading so fast they are outstripping our ab...

Comments

Read More

Yogi’s wisdom is worth thinking about

May 04, 2018 at 3:11 pm | The Royal Register The late great philosopher Yogi Berra once proclaimed: “The future ain’t what it used to be.” It sure ain’t! A lot has changed over the last 60 years since Yogi was the catcher for the legendary ...

Comments

Read More

Skilled trade jobs go unfilled in our robust economy

April 26, 2018 at 5:00 am | The Royal Register Millions of college graduates find themselves saddled with crushing debt and more than a third of them won’t be working in their chosen profession. Many will be working for low wages. Meanwhile, t...

Comments

Read More

Streamlining regulations helps Americans compete

April 20, 2018 at 5:00 am | The Royal Register President Trump campaigned on cutting taxes, streamlining regulations and improving infrastructure. He also vowed to renegotiate our trade agreements calling the North American Free Trade Agreement...

Comments

Read More

Contact Us

509-770-1227
705 E. Hemlock (downstairs)
Othello, WA 99344

©2018 Sun Tribune Terms of Use Privacy Policy
X
X