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April 3, 2024

Good News: Gen Z Takes Up Trades

A new survey shows that an increasing number of Gen Z high schoolers are looking at trade schools rather than college.

For many, there is nothing quite as satisfying as becoming a skilled master of a tradecraft. Be it plumbing, electrical, or myriad other hands-on trade professions, what can be better than combining one’s physical abilities with technical know-how and building or fixing something — and getting paid well for it?

It’s certainly better than going to college or university without any clear direction and ending up with a major that won’t guarantee a good-paying job to pay off that mountain of loan debt you accrued over the previous four years. (Well, as long as Uncle Joe didn’t transfer that loan balance to taxpayers.)

This appears to be a growing perspective among Gen Zers, who are ditching college in favor of the skilled trades.

A recent Wall Street Journal article notes the shift: “Enrollment in vocational training programs is surging as overall enrollment in community colleges and four-year institutions has fallen. The number of students enrolled in vocational-focused community colleges rose 16% last year to its highest level since the National Student Clearinghouse began tracking such data in 2018. The ranks of students studying construction trades rose 23% during that time, while those in programs covering HVAC and vehicle maintenance and repair increased 7%.”

So, what’s driving this change in Gen Z? Well, to put it bluntly, the free market.

Demand for skilled tradesmen has raised the industry’s earning power. The median pay for new construction workers increased 5.1% last year alone to $48,089. In contrast, the median pay for professional services rose just 2.7% in 2022, for an annual wage of $39,520. And this is a four-year trend.

According to a survey conducted by Jobber on high school- and college-age individuals, a whopping 75% said they were interested in vocational schools. Meanwhile, 80% of those surveyed noted that their parents wanted them to go to college.

The key to long-term success in any career is enjoyment. While financial incentives are an important consideration, doing something that inspires or invigorates tends to be much more fulfilling.

That Gen Zers are increasingly opting for the skilled trades is also good news for the nation, which has been facing a considerable labor shortage due to Boomer retirements. This is also welcome news to Mike Rowe of “Dirty Jobs,” who has long warned of the skilled labor shortage and has championed these careers. Last August, Rowe observed that the new trend was “encouraging, but this is a long, slow burn.” He added: “It’s going to take a long time to undo the damage we caused when we took shop class out of high schools. It’s stigmas, it’s stereotypes, it’s misperceptions. They’re slowly starting to erode, but we just have to keep pushing it.”

Another factor in Gen Z’s thinking about higher education is the emergence of Artificial Intelligence. Jobber CEO Sam Pillar notes, “Gen Z is hyper-aware of the impact AI is having and will continue to have on their career prospects, and are concerned about roles being eliminated by automation.”

This is genuinely good and hopeful news, and it reinforces the reality that a free market creates the incentives that allow an economy to continually adapt and flourish.

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