College Degrees vs. Trade Jobs: The growing demand for skilled labor

You make good grades, go to college, then get a good paying job. It’s become part of the American Dream. Data shows you can still achieve that dream, though, without a four-year degree.

For every 10 jobs in the United States, seven are trade, two require a bachelor’s degree and one requires a master’s degree or above, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Most growing careers in the Local 6 region are skills-based jobs. In western Kentucky, automotive jobs are up 46 percent from 2010. Metalworking is up 9 percent and construction is up 12 percent.

In Ballard, Caldwell, Fulton, Graves, and Marshall counties, more than 45 percent of jobs are utility, trade, transportation or manufacturing and construction jobs. You can find more county-by-county job data here.

In Weakley, Obion, and Henry counties in Tennessee, the demand for manufacturing, tractor-trailer drivers, and construction are all expected to grow by 2022, according to labor market information provided by the Northwest Tennessee Workforce Board. 

In Illinois, however, 6 in 10 job openings require a bachelor’s degree or more, according to the Illinois Career Information System.

Adam Grosz could have gone to pretty much any college he wanted. He made one B in high school. He achieved straight As in his other classes. He scored a 34 on the science portion of the ACT. Grosz first told us during his senior year at Murray-Calloway County High School that he didn’t want a four-year degree, and he’s rather be a welder.

A year later, Grosz has a full-time job and takes classes at West Kentucky Community and Technical College. He hopes to get a certificate in welding, but highly doubts he’ll ever get a bachelor’s degree. “People look at me weird because I’m dirty, but I’ve been working all morning and stuff. And I tell them what I do, and their eyes widen. They don’t understand the hard work it takes for this, but I have the opportunity to make a dream a reality, so I’ve got to put in the effort,” Grosz told me.

James Gallimore at Gallimore Electrical Contractors in Murray, Kentucky, struggles to find young people like Grosz. He said worries, because as baby boomers retire, more trade jobs need to be filled.

“If you’re smart and got the attitude to want to learn and really be dedicated, you can make a very good living. You don’t have to have a college degree. You have to have some common sense,” Gallimore said.

On average, five years after graduation with a four year degree, you can make $33,000 there, according to the Kentucky Post Secondary Feedback Report. A two-year degree in construction paid $54,000 last year. Transportation and warehouses paid an average of $60,000, according to the WKCTC Opportunities and Trends 2017 Report.

Gallimore said he thinks the trend to four-year college over trade jobs will lead to higher rates for manual labor. He said his electricians “can demand their own price, and they can get it because there’s nobody else that’s qualified. There’s no one to do it, and people don’t understand why electricians are expensive. Try to find one.”

Last year, more than 74 percent of construction contractors in the South said they were short-handed, according to the Associated General Contractors of America. We could be short 240,000 truckers by 2022, according to Forbes.

McCracken County High School Principal Michael Ceglinski hopes to solve the problem. He, along with the school board, is requesting $8 million from the state, to coincide a 10 percent match from the board to build a new skills center. “Kids aren’t coming out of high school going into these high-wage skilled labor type jobs because we’ve been pretty tunnel visioned. We’ve been focused on college readiness, which isn’t a bad thing, but that’s where we’ve pushed all of our kids over time.”

Many bachelor’s degree graduates have to leave the region to find jobs. In fact, 24 percent of Murray States 2012 class moved out of Kentucky. To See Murray State’s full post-secondary feedback report click here

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