Trade Jobs Are Gaining Ground With Gen Z

By: Anneken Tappe · April 18, 2024 · Reading Time: 3 minutes

A college degree is still considered an important step toward career success but what if there were other options.

The U.S. doesn’t have as strong a vocational training program culture as other countries, such as Germany, for example, where many jobs are on the vocational rather than college track, but interest in it is growing.

Filling a Generational Gap

The high cost of obtaining a four-year degree is driving Gen Z toward trade jobs.

In 2023, enrollment in vocational programs at U.S. community colleges jumped 16%, according to the National Student Clearinghouse — a record since the nonprofit began tracking this data in 2018.

That said, there remains a sizable labor shortage for trade roles, including plumbers and electricians. The construction industry faces a shortfall of half a million workers this year, according to the Associated Builders and Contractors trade group. Even so, the younger generation’s renewed interest in trades could help address these gaps.

Changing Tides

While a college degree is still “worth it” in terms of average salaries, this is particularly true for specific fields, such as STEM. Meanwhile, more than half (52%) of college graduates end up in jobs that don’t make use of the skills or credentials gained in school, according to a study from Burning Glass Institute and Strada Education Foundation.

A survey from think tank New America showed more than half (54%) of adult Americans believe a high school diploma is sufficient for a quality job, while a Gallup survey found that nearly half (46%) of U.S. parents now favor alternatives to college for their children. This shifting attitude may be just what the economy needs to fill the growing void in trade positions left by retirees.

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