Why You Should Send Your Kid to Trade School

In a recent article for Bloomberg, columnist Justin Fox outlines the oft-overlooked opportunity of blue-collar jobs. This opportunity, a decent-sized gold-mine for high school students interested in work in the trades. The biggest impediment, he finds? Our country’s negative stigma on blue collar jobs is. Specifically, our country’s parents who aren’t sending our their kids to trade school.

He writes following a trip to Lawson State Community College, an Alabama school that offers many technical and vocational training programs. These programs are equipping students with the high-end technological skills to participate in electrical, plumbing, welding, HVAC, and auto mechanic fields.

But the struggle? Convincing students of the opportunity. And ‘opportunity’ here most closely translates into the real DEMAND for such skills in trades fields. This demand equates to respectable salaries of, on average, $48,320. Not too bad for a path that requires no bachelor’s degree, right?

Tom Berryman, who Fox interviewed for the piece, knows the struggle of convincing kids (and their parents, for that matter) of this opportunity. In his own words, ‘If you can get me in front of the parents, I can get the kid in here. But if the kid has to go home and explain it to the parents — good luck.”

‘If you can get me in front of the parents, I can get the kid in here. But if the kid has to go home and explain it to the parents — good luck.”-Tom Berryman

Why are parents so reluctant to send their kids into the trades? Fox’s piece sheds light on a whole new angle to this dilemma. The parents Berryman is, by and large, working with are products of a World War II era—where getting a four-year degree and becoming a ‘nuclear physicist’ was idealized. A career in the trades? Not so much.

Understanding these stigmas helps us better understand why kids aren’t picking up careers in the trades. And why employers continue to struggle to find the skilled workers they need.

But Fox points out that ‘old-line’ blue-collar jobs are changing. Just take that $48,320 average salary from 2015. The manufacturing of today is a whole new beast, as compared to the manufacturing of yesterday. We’re talking robots, automation, and AI.

The takeaway? While technology continues to accelerate and industries in the trades continue to evolve (manufacturing, chemical, oil, etc.), the picture we’re painting for our youth needs to change just the same. What does a career in manufacturing look like? What will your day-to-day look like as an auto mechanic? What opportunities lie in the trades wherein employers are absolutely desperate for young, skilled talent? Are you 

We can’t let our stigmas formed during WWII era manufacturing play a role in the picture we’re painting for our kids today. Or we’ll slight the younger generation of participating and benefiting from one of the most exciting and evolving fields of our time: manufacturing. And our country will continue to suffer from the lack of skilled talent just as our kids struggle to find jobs in fields they’ve chosen that are already oversaturated.

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5 Reasons Trade School Was the Right Choice


That’s right. The reason most folks opt for the trades path? Because the classroom setting just doesn’t do it for them. And the hands-on, in the field, building stuff setting just does. Working with your hands building, fixing, laying, drilling, welding real stuff is so much more fulfilling for some than sitting in an office cubicle, working at a computer screen all day.

Why? Because your day’s hard work has manifested itself physically into the actual world! In other words, you’re building something REAL, STRONG, and LASTING.

That’s one hell of a good reason to be glad you’ve chosen the trades path—you can end each day proud that you’ve contributed something real to the infrastructure of our world.


Sure, sure, we sound like a broken record at this point. But we can’t really oversell what it means to come out of ‘academia’ with relevant and valuable skills and little to no debt. We’ve all heard the figures—Americans owe nearly $1.3 trillion in student loans, shared among about 44 million borrowers. That breaks down to an average of about $37,172 per borrower.

Think of all the sweet things $37,172 could buy. Just think of them. Consider yourself $37,172 richer than the average college graduate. Hoo-ra for you.


This one goes real nicely with the last one, don’t you think? Not only are you entering the workforce without crippling debt, but you’re entering it with skills that are valuable! And by valuable, we mean dollar signs valuable. Just check out Payscale’s data on wages and salaries across all trades industries. It pretty much speaks for itself.


Something that isn’t talked about much in conversations on skilled trades is the level autonomy you’ll find in your field. That’s basically a fancy way of saying you get to work when and where you want to work—you’re in control of your future.

With the wealth of job boards that scrape trades work from all over the country, the only thing holding you back from becoming a seasoned traveller is your own imagination 😉 If you want to start getting creative with the places you’re working, check out any number of job boards on the web, you’ll find plenty of good jobs all over the country.


It’s no surprising fact that jobs in the skilled trades are some of the hardest to fill.

Why? Among other things—as you’re likely familiar—our nation’s stigma on the skilled trades has discouraged just about every bright student from pursuing the trades path. The path that would, with the right encouragement, bring good money, great work, and fulfillment. But kudos to you for not buying the BS!

It’s a real sham the stigma has pushed so many kids away, but on the bright side, the shortage of workers equates to opportunity for you. Pretty sweet deal, right? There’s a slew of resources out there that’ll help you kick off your career, it’s just a matter of finding the right tool and team to help you launch your career, and getting started.

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4 Great Reasons to Start a Student Co-op Program


An innovative recruiting strategy is critical for bringing the right skilled talent into your pipeline. And successful companies are always on the lookout for ways to find talented trades workers.

You likely know better than anyone that a large portion of trades workers in the field are fast approaching retirement age. This means that a new generation of skilled labor is needed to fill their roles.

So where is this generation going to come from? How are we going to connect with it? And, perhaps most importantly, how can employers help this generation to advance in their field? Starting or partnering with a student co-op is a promising way to achieve this while building a strong pipeline of talent for the future.


One way to prepare students to fill these roles is by partnering with or starting a co-op program.  Through a co-op program, students can spend their time half in the workshop learning and half in the field, working. This means that, by the end of the program, you’ve got a young experienced cohort of talent.

The incentive for a student to participate in a co-op is obvious. They get this hands-on experience while completing their education. Not to mention, they can develop a relationship with a great employer: you.


And the employer benefits of creating or partnering with a co-op program are many:

  • A strong pipeline of young, well-trained trades workers.
  • Specialized prospects. Co-op programs give employers an opportunity to develop talent strategically to meet their company’s need. Training students to specialize on specific facets of your business’s operations means money and time saved spent training new hires.
  • A longer training period. Co-ops typically last much longer than internships. So the student’s progress and development can be overseen for two or three years. This allows you to gauge their character and work ethic and determine if they will are an ideal fit.
  • Making a contribution. Knowing that you are helping the next generation of trade workers succeed is just about good enough a reason to start a co-op program as any.

(stay tuned for part 2 of this blog series)

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How to Choose the Right Trade School for You


Unsure what to do after high school? Trade school is an awesome option. You will get the specialized skills that make you valuable in a growing field. And faster than you would in a four-year program. Not to mention, trade school costs less than regular college. Heck, you could even find a trade that matches your interests.

But how to do you find the right one? Consider the following factors as you look for the right trade school for you…


Visit the school and check out their facilities. Are the tools and equipment used in training the same ones you would use in the job field? You want to know that you’re learning the most current skills on the most advanced machinery. Because you want employers to be fighting over you when you finish your program.

When you graduate, you won’t have lots of work experience to beef up your resume. But if you’re trained on the most advanced tools and techniques, you’ll have an edge on other job seekers. So look for a school with cutting edge techniques. This way you’ll leave the program with the most current training.

Unsure what trade you want to pursue? Try an online test. Once you know what trade you like, learn about the technology in that field and compare it to what you find at the schools you visit. 


Trade school is different from high school or regular college. While there may be some class time where you’re at a desk for a tutorial, most of your training will take place in a shop, lab, or worksite. This is hands-on work. You’re going to want direct attention and training from your professors to learn the right skills, the right way.

If this one-on-one instruction is important to you, look for a school with small class sizes. Especially for the classes where you’ll be in the shop or on a worksite. You want to be able to ask as many questions as needed and get plenty of time with the instructor. If you’re in a large class, that may not be possible.


Make sure that the school you’re considering is accredited. What does that mean?  This means that the school has been reviewed and meets a high level of academic standards.  If your program has a great reputation, employers will want to hire you. On the other hand, you aren’t going to get the time of day if you’re training isn’t respected

There are loads of schools popping up these days—especially online. Some of these degrees don’t meet recognized standards. You don’t want to pay for a degree and then find that your skills don’t meet employer requirements. So don’t get played by an institution that doesn’t respect your time and money. Check out the following resources to check whether your school is accredited.


Getting your degree is a big accomplishment! But the real reason you opted for trade school was to get the right job that will be worth the time and money of training.

So before you commit to a school, visit their job placement office or career services. Will they help you get co-ops and internships while you’re in school? Do they have relationships with local employers? Have their graduates had successful careers? These are all important questions to answer.

A career in the trades is a great path. But you have to choose the right school to launch it. Take your time and do your due diligence. A degree from a well-respected school is the best first step in a rewarding career.

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3 Ways to Save Money on a Trades Education


No matter what industry you’re in, education means career success. When you build your skills, you make yourself more attractive to employers. You have an edge that other workers don’t have. This means more negotiating power to get the benefits and salary you deserve. School and training, however, don’t always come cheap.

Yes, trade school and training programs are less expensive than a 4-year college. But the cost isn’t nothin’ to shrug off. If you have a family and financial obligations, you may not have the extra cash to update your skills. And if you’re a high schooler or student who hasn’t got a solid income yet, you’re gonna need help.

The good news is that there are tools out there to help. Check out the following three ways you can save money paying for your trades education or training. Heck, go ahead and try out all three. You could get your whole education without paying a dime from your pocket.


Grants are one of the best ways to pay for a trades education. Why? Because, unlike student loans, they don’t involve a grody amount of debt. A grant is free tuition help from the government, your school, or a private organization. Yup… they don’t even have to be repaid. Novel idea, eh?! Literally free money. And how to get this free money, you ask?

  • Reach out to the schools you want to go to or programs you want to be a part of and have their financial aid office connect you with grant opportunities
  • Meet with your local union to see if there are any grants available through their programs
  • Visit Studentaid.ed.gov to apply for all the grants you are eligible for

Check out multiple trade schools, unions, and grant providers! Do some window shopping. See where your best opportunities are and knock your socks off. You shouldn’t go broke just to learn the skills that will make you valuable in your field.


Yes, yes, it’s true. Student loans are getting a super bad rap these days. But lemme make something straight… not ALL student loan providers are the bad guys. And there IS a way to use student loans to pay for your education without racking up god-awful debt.

But how do you decide if a trades education or training is even worth taking on debt? Think of it as a trade-off. Find your projected earnings for your job. How long will it take you to pay this debt off, given these earnings? At which point will you be making the kind of money you want to make, and the real benefit of your education be kicking in? This is the stuff that’ll tell you whether it’s worth it.

If you’re feeling real ambitious, make a budget. It may seem like a pain in the ass, and it sort of is. But better to look at the big picture now than when you’re knee deep in thousands of dollars of debt three years down the road. Right?

If you DO decide to go the ‘Sallie Mae’ route, keep in mind these tips to keep your student loans in check:

  • Build a repayment plan (and factor it into your shiny new budget)
  • Be real about how much cash can go toward paying your loans off. You know how they say that stuff always costs more than you think it will? Yeah… that’s basically always true.
  • Get honest about how you’re spending your money. Yes, that double parachute camping hammock with a 900 lb capacity would be a badass thing to have. But the small (and impulsive) purchases add up super quick.
  • Pay off the most expensive loans first. If you took out many loans, tackle the private ones first. These suckers have the higher interest rates.
  • Consolidate loans. This is a nifty trick where you turn many small loans into one big one. This makes payments more affordable—decreasing the interest rate, and resetting the clock on deferments and forbearances (some student loan lingo that you should know about). Look into the pros and cons of this first.
  • Check out loan forgiveness programs. Student Loan Hero has a full list of options
  • Make more money. This one seems sort of… uh, obvious. But, if you’re in a real fix, find ways to make more money in your free time. Check out Forbes’s list of ideas
  • Don’t take on more debt. One of the best ways to pay off your debt fast? Don’t take on more in the process. Seems simple, eh? If you’re one for the fancy lifestyle, though, you’ll need to figure out how to stop using your credit card (to buy things you probably don’t need)
  • Find an employer who will pay off some of your debt (see below).


Companies who need skilled workers are dealing with a serious labor shortage. Because of this, many are willing to take a chance on someone who is still completing their education, or who needs help paying for it. E.g. YOU. So ask employers to fund part of your training if you commit to staying with them for a set number of years. It’s all about convincing them of your skills and abilities. Need help on this? See our blog on how to ace your skilled trades job interview.

Talk to trade schools about employers in the area who do co-ops and internships. Working part-time while finishing your education is a great way to make more money. And if loan debt is a big concern, you can get in specifically with employers that value your skills and will pay for part of your debt.

If you’re already in the working world, looking to sharpen your skills, talk to your boss. He or she may be willing to pay for part of your training, or at least connect you with the right tools to take the next steps.

The resources are out there. You just have to find the tools and use whatever ones will get you where you want to be. You never know where you’ll strike some luck, so keep looking. Visit some tech schools. Talk to their financial aid department. Reach out to your local union. Find out what grants you’re eligible for. Find employers who will pay for your education. Or ask your current employer to pay for part of your training. The world is, no doubt, your oyster.

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America’s Vocational Education is Important


In 1983, an investigation by the National Commission on Excellence in Education found that our education system was, by and large, failing our citizens. What then Secretary of Education T.H.Bell confirmed was “the widespread public perception that something is seriously remiss in our education


-something is seriously remiss in our education system--T.H. Bell, Secretary of Education 1983

What had been dangerously underestimated was the importance of vocational programs in funneling youth into skilled trades careers. Ideally, this next generation carries out the work that, primarily, our current baby boomer generation is now retiring from. Instead, they are funnelled into pursuing a traditional education. In sum: our country has no successive skilled workforce. This work includes construction and extraction occupations, welding, soldering and brazing workers, and machinists. Need a visual representation of this scary phenomena? Check out this infographic for a comprehensive breakdown.



This gap in our education system has closely contributed to what the Industry Workforce Needs Coalition calls, appropriately, a “skills gap”. We have created an environment in which there is no younger generation of tradesmen and women to fill the jobs that the baby boomers are retiring from. Multiple sources have echoed these concerns, such as Fox Business, whose article reads, “Positions in skilled trades, such as welders and electricians, lead ManpowerGroup’s list of the hardest jobs to fill in 2012.” This is a big problem… We can only anticipate the demand for skilled trades work increase as the economy recovers from our last recession. So… what can we do about the lack of skilled workers?


Let’s first challenge the misperception that all quality jobs in this country require a traditional four-year-degree. Let’s change our approach to vocational education and realize that skilled trades work is as respectable, fulfilling, and meaningful a career path as traditional options. Let’s break this national stigma that says blue collar work is somehow ‘less honorable’ than working 9-5 in an office.


The jobs in trades industries are abundant, and there are a multitude of organizations that can help you prepare for and connect with the opportunities! Companies like NCCEROSHA, AWS, and, Unions offer education programs that teach the important skills needed for entering the industry. If you don’t have a program close to you, check out a community college or trade school in your area. Don’t forget to stop by the financial aid office to ask about available scholarships!

The resources are out there to help young up-and-coming skilled tradesmen and women fill the shoes of a retiring generation of workers. If you’re a recent high-school graduate seeking a fulfilling career path, we suggest exploring the skilled trades. It’s up to you to pick a path, educate yourself, and secure a promising future.


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