Off the Beaten Track: Choosing Blue-Collar Careers

Jun 01, 2019



If you’re heading off to college this fall, I’ve got a question for you:

Why?

It’s not that college is a bad choice. It’s an excellent move for students who have:

  • A clear idea of what they want to do in their future work lives
  • Chosen a profession that demands a degree
  • A plan for paying for it without financially crippling themselves 

Less smart is heading off to the dorms because you believe:

  • No one gets a good job without a degree
  • White-collar work is more rewarding than blue collar work
  • Your parents will never forgive you if you don’t

Anthony O’Neal, author of The Graduate Survival Guide: 5 Mistakes You Can’t Afford to Make in College, is an expert in advising students how to get through college without piling up debt. O’Neal is also a strong advocate for those who choose to bypass college completely. 

“College is not for everyone,” O’Neal says. “And just like there are plenty of pros to getting a college degree, there are some cons, too.” Those cons include:

  • You might not need a degree to do the job you want.
  • Having a degree doesn’t guarantee landing a good job.
  • You could earn a degree in a field you realize you don’t like. 
  • What if you don’t graduate? The National Center for Education Statistics (nces.ed.gov) shows 41 percent of public college students still don’t have their degrees after six years.

Nationwide, there is an abundance of unfilled blue-collar jobs. Parental bias favoring college over the trades is a major reason for the current talent shortage. For decades, American kids have been groomed from preschool to prom to get that degree. 

But the future isn’t necessarily less bright for a seventh grader eyeing a blue-collar trade. A recent Bloomberg report shows that, nationwide, some blue-collar professionals such as electricians and mechanics can actually earn more than their white-collar friends. Plus, they’re not buried under student loan debt. 

Vocational educational (vo-tech) classes are gaining popularity, as are apprenticeships right out of high school featuring on-the-job training. Many hardline employers who chose to hire only degreed applicants – and are now scrambling to find talented mid-level workers – are changing direction, searching for skills rather than credentials. Prominent business leaders such as Siemens USA CEO Barbara Humpton and Apple CEO Tim Cook reject the idea college guarantees career-readiness. Half of Apple’s 2018 new hires didn’t have four-year degrees.

According to Georgetown University Center on Education’s Good Jobs Project (goodjobsdata.org), the top five industries in Missouri offering good jobs without a traditional, four-year college degree are:

  • Manufacturing (average $54,000/yr.)
  • Transportation and utilities ($60,000/yr.)
  • Construction ($57,000/yr.)
  • Health services ($52,000/yr.)
  • Information, financial activities, and real estate ($56,000/yr.)

There will always be good jobs that require college academics. There will always be good jobs that don’t. A degree of wise contemplation helps in deciding which route to take.

About the Writer

Cheryl Gochnauer

Contributing Writer

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