Where the jobs are: For the class of 2014, choosing a trade school over college could pay off

CINCINNATI - The expectation for most graduating seniors is to attend the college of their choice, get their bachelor’s degree, then work in their field of study.

While tradition dictates the most successful path to gainful employment is a four-year degree, some students are choosing two-year degrees or certificates in technical disciplines as less expensive and more efficient means of employment.

So how do technical and trade schools compare to four year institutions when it comes to actually finding a job?

In a 2013 Forbes Magazine article , ManpowerGroup (a global staffing company) identified looming shortages in skilled trade labor--including welders, electricians, machinists, plumbers and woodworkers.

Today, Tri-State businesses are feeling the crunch. At HGC Construction director of human resources Deborah Pickering explained in the past several years, she's seen fewer and fewer graduating seniors applying for jobs.

“What we’re finding is that high schools are encouraging kids to go to college to get a bachelor’s degree,” she said. “So somehow we’re falling a little bit behind in getting young adults excited about working in the construction industry.”

"It really fast-forwarded my life in a good way"

To address an increasing need in trades and technology, Great Oaks Career Campuses offer a variety of courses which normally take 10 months to complete.

Adult workforce development supervisor Carol Klotz said its four campuses  train high school students and adults in a number of careers, focusing solely on skills and education necessary for their specific field of study.

“A lot of people come to us because they don’t want to go through the academics,” she said. “For instance, the math that they need is embedded into the program, not as a pull out, stand-alone class. If they need math for blueprint reading, it’s included.”

As a graduate of Great Oaks, Hillsboro resident Joe Mozzone explained he felt training to be a plumber would be a pragmatic and a less expensive option compared to a college degree.

While still in school, he said he was recruited by Apollo Heating Cooling and Plumbing , where he's worked full-time for a year and a half.

"Pursuing a trade is a great default because you'll always have work; it just seemed like a more reliable decision," he said. "But the greatest part is my new career allowed my girlfriend and I to buy a home. So it really fast-forwarded my life in a good way."

In order to provide the greatest opportunity for success, Klotz said Great Oaks works with businesses in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana to identify their specific needs when designing courses. She said the campuses boast a 90.36 percent placement rate in 11 full-time programs, with an 83 percent graduation rate among students.

Klotz said the cost of programs ranges from $7,000 to $10,000 depending on necessary material costs. She said return on investment is usually immediate.

“Ten months is a whole lot different than four years,” Klotz said. “You’ve got four year grads coming out sometimes and working at McDonalds because maybe their skill isn’t hiring right now.”

In addition to educating young adults while in high school or following graduation, Klotz said Great Oaks trains people at different stages of life: including from those who have been downsized, retirees, and veterans. She said quite often adults who have responsibilities don’t have the time or the money required to earn a college degree.

“We can start training at the basic level to get them to a diploma or a GED so we can get them into a career training program,” she said. “Wherever they are in life, we can get them where they need to go.”

High school diploma is just the start

According to a 2014 Pew Research Center study the act of not pursuing some type of secondary education will cost job-seekers in the long run. College graduates or those with some type of secondary education earn approximately $17,500 more annually than those holding only a high school diploma, with an estimated annual income of $45,500.

However, the rising cost of education can act as a deterrent for many. In addition, a 2013 graduate owes an average of $35,200 in college related debt. 

The College Board data from 2014 shows how average yearly tuition and fees stack up:

  • Public Two-Year College (in-state student) $3,131
  • Public Four-Year College (in-state student) $8,655
  • Public Four-Year College (out of state student) $21,706
  • Private Four-Year College $29,056

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Career choices often begin at the middle school to high school level. In order to help better prepare students to enter the workforce, Cincinnati Public Schools compliance officer Kelly Broschied explained students go through career pathway programs designed to help them in the exploration process. She said during high school, students focus on their strengths, interests and passions for certain disciplines.

“We encourage them to narrow in on a career field, not a specific job,” she said. “For example

‘health’ has a lot of different job opportunities related to careers, so we begin to narrow in a little bit further each year doing more exploration and adding more experience.”

Student pathways may lead o four-year, two-year colleges or certification programs, Broschied said. All high schools nationwide are required to offer career technical programs embedded within their educational system. The programs allow students to focus fields of study such as construction, manufacturing, engineering, culinary arts, health, IT, performing arts, and others while obtaining other required credits for graduation.

While a career such as nurse assisting allows students to qualify for employment directly out of high school, Broschied said most careers require some sort of secondary education in order to become certified in a field of study often referred to as ‘stackable credentials.’ She explained success is no longer solely measured by attaining a two-year of four-year degree as it’s important to give students valuable and viable education along the way.

“We’re starting to see a lot of smaller pieces of success so we’re not waiting until the very end to give them something that makes them valuable,” she said. “If kids can’t make it to that end point, we need to at least make sure they leave with something of value when they graduate from our career tech program.”

Finding a job

While some U.S. job sectors continue to downsize, others are aggressively recruiting. According to Partners for a Competitive Workforce (PCW) executive director Janice Urbanik the collaborative of more than 150 organizations anticipate shortages in construction, health care, IT and manufacturing sectors.

She said in order to generate interest, PCW  has created a talent pipeline initiative focused on providing career exploration experiences for students while they are still in the K12 education system.

“Each of these industry sectors have openings now and are projected to have openings in the future,” Urbanik said. “These are all industries that provide a career pathway where someone can come in on a given level and through work experience and additional education and training can move up within those industries.”

A number of resources exist to help people choose careers. Urbanik pointed out sites such as Ohio Means Jobs which includes an interactive budget calculator which allows people to determine salary requirement then find related jobs. Dream It Do It OKI  provide information for career options in the Tri-State region.

“It’s part of the national ‘dream it do it’ initiative to get more people interested in careers in manufacturing,” she said. “We created it so people from Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana can learn about the in demand careers for manufacturing in our area.”

Local company invests in training

In the construction sector, the greatest need is for skilled labor, HGC Construction's Pickering said. While the positions do require training few of the company's employees have college degrees. Even without a diploma, Pickering said workers make a decent living, earning $15 to $18 per hour initially and increasing to $34 per hour and above.

For those who are interested in a career, Pickering said HGC provides in-house training as well as work with organizations such as the Urban League for apprenticeship programs. She said they very rarely see high school grads apply; recent generations simply have not embraced arts such carpentry, brick-laying, masonry or framing.

“Cabinet making is an art that has fallen by the wayside,” she said. “These are people who feel wood with their hands, they cut, they create these finishes, desks and framing and really custom cabinetry and when you look at it you would think it’s a beautiful piece of artwork – that talent in not readily available in the newer generation.”

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