From college to the trades

They went to college and then what? More college-educated young people are seeking careers in the skilled trades, reports the Washington Post.

They started out studying aerospace engineering, creative writing and urban planning. But somewhere on the path to accumulating academic credentials, they decided that working with their hands sounded more pleasant — and lucrative — than a lot of white-collar work. So bye-bye to term papers and graduate theses, and hello to apprenticeships to become plumbers, electricians, auto mechanics and carpenters.

Adam) Osielski thought he’d go from Notre Dame, where he earned a theology degree, to law school. But it seemed like drudgery. He was graduated this month from an apprenticeship program run by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. “I’m glad to be already working and developing a career.”

Economists and labor scholars say the rocky economy has been a boon for trade schools. But they also point to policymakers, guidance counselors and parents who don’t value the trades and overvalue college as the gateway to success. As a result, American students come to trade apprenticeships relatively late, often after they’ve already tried college. The average age of the beginning apprentice in the United States is 25; in Germany, 18.

High school counselors “want everyone to go to college,” said Dale Belman, a labor economist at Michigan State University. “So now we’re getting more of the college-educated going into the trades.”

Licensed journeymen typically earn $65,000 to $85,000 a year, depending on overtime, the Post reports. Apprenticeship programs are swamped with applicants. The electricians’ union has 2,500 applications for 100 slots.

Most gravitate to commercial construction, where digital equipment has made the ability to decipher technical manuals and complicated building codes crucial. Many aspire to be foremen or own their own business.

Rateeluck Puvapiromquan, 30, the daughter of two teachers who immigrated to Baltimore from Thailand, earned a philosophy of religion degree at St. Mary’s College. After working in coffee shops and hotels, she became an electrician.  “The critical thinking and communication skills I learned in college are absolutely crucial to getting our work done. It’s critical thinking, not just, ‘I lift heavy objects.’ ”

Via Instapundit.

A Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce report, Help Wanted, says the demand for college graduates will be high, once we get out of the recession.  Colleges should streamline programs to emphasize employability, says Anthony Carnevale, director of the center, in Inside Higher Ed.

Carnevale acknowledged that such a shift would accept “a dual system” in which a select few receive an “academic” college education and most students receive a college education that is career preparation. “We are all offended by tracking,” he said. But the reality, Carnevale said, is that the current system doesn’t do a good job with the career-oriented track, in part by letting many of the colleges on that track “aspire to be Harvard.” He said that educators have a choice: “to be loyal to the purity of your ideas and refuse to build a selective dual system, or make people better off.”

Average students should go to college with a career plan in mind, Carnevale said.

But few teenagers know what they want to do with their lives, says HechingerEd.

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  1. Interesting article, but note the title: “More college-educated jump tracks to become skilled manual laborers.” I don’t think the term “laborer” is typically used to describe a skilled worker, indeed, Merriam-Webster defines a laborer as “one who labors; specifically: a person who does unskilled physical work for wages”


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