You may know this story: college enrollment has risen since 2000, reaching 16.9 million students in 2016. To parents, guidance counselors, and college grads it’s the only pathway to modern career success or social respectability.

But did you know that trade school participation has increased over that time period, as well? In fact, trade school enrollment has nearly doubled and hit 16 million participants in 2014 according to The National Center for Education Statistics. As a successful blue-collar worker, all I can say is “great!” Because blue-collar wages and opportunities are also skyrocketing. 

The truth is, we need more welders, mechanics, plumbers, and just about every other job that requires getting your hands dirty. I’ve written before about the blue-collar employment gap (there are more jobs than applicants!) and how this is impacting wages (hint, they’re going up!), but I’m pleasantly surprised to hear that Gen Z is listening. Vocational schooling can be a great entry-point to high-paying careers like elevator installer and repairer ($74,000 to 105,000 per year), electrician and plumber (up to $100,000 or more), and many other of the blue-collar jobs that pay 6 figures. It’s also a great opportunity for folks who want to start their career faster, who know what field they want to work in already, or who don’t feel like they excel in the traditional class environment. 

There are many valid reasons to go to college, but “finding a job that pays a lot of money” is not one of them, because there are plenty of blue-collar opportunities that pay just as much and don’t require years just to pay back the college tuition and years of lost wages. 

While the kids are starting to pick up on this, it’s probably not in big enough numbers, as millions of blue-collar jobs are unfilled. Bring back shop class and encourage students to take a technical course regardless of their other interests. We need to convince more students that learning blue-collar job skills will pay off, or we’ll continue facing a shortage of blue-collar workers and all the inefficiency that entails as consumers and citizens of this great nation. 

Surely, informing teens of their options is the role of parents, teachers, and mentors, but it’s also why I wrote Blue Collar Cash

There’s a perception that blue-collar careers are dead, there’s a stigma against those in the manufacturing trade, and people are unaware that new-collar jobs even exist! Each of these items is addressed in Blue Collar Cash and I can guarantee it’ll be one of the best books for teens and those in the blue-collar trades.

Blue-collar careers remain valuable and satisfying to those who work hard, like working with their hands, and who are willing to learn. Thank god that schools are training growing numbers of young adults in these skills.

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