Off the Beaten Track: Choosing Blue-Collar Careers

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


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 ( 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 (, 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.

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