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Why I Encourage My Teenager to Consider a Career in Skilled Trades Over College

Why I Encourage My Teenager to Consider a Career in Skilled Trades Over College

It’s that time of year for high school seniors; college acceptances are in, decisions are being made, and who is going to which school is the talk of the hallways, lunch rooms, and social media platforms. But let’s remember, not everyone is going to college because college is not for everyone. 

The pressure to pursue a traditional four-year college education is still strong. However, we are not doing our high school students justice if we lead them to believe that college is the expected next step or that it is the only path to career success, fulfillment, and happiness. There are many different options our kids can pursue, and let’s be honest, there are many downsides to the traditional four-year college plan.

Let’s start with the fact that the emphasis on a college degree as the sole path to success overlooks the diverse talents and interests of many of our kids. Not every teenager thrives in a traditional classroom setting or pursues a career that requires a bachelor’s degree. While college is undoubtedly valuable for many, we need to remember it is not for everyone.

Next, there is the financial burden. The costs of a traditional four-year college education have skyrocketed and, dare we say, are out of control. With tuition fees, accommodation, and other expenses steadily rising, chasing that college degree can saddle students with overwhelming debt that takes years, if not decades, to repay. The burden of student loans can hinder financial independence and limit opportunities for young adults as they start their careers and families.

The push and pressure to get into college starts young, with parents pushing their young athletes to specialize in a sport early in hopes (dreams) of receiving that coveted college athlete scholarship. And on the academic side, the push starts early, too. Honors and AP classes seem to be a must if you want to be accepted at a name school. Plus, you must load up on extra-curricular and volunteer work, hire a tutor to score high on the ACTs and SATs and win an academic scholarship. The pressure never stops. Are we surprised that there is a mental health crisis among our young people? 

Finally, there is the concern of the college environment itself. While higher education offers invaluable opportunities for personal and intellectual growth, it also exposes students to various pressures and temptations. Peer pressure to engage in excessive partying, alcohol consumption, and other risky behaviors is a prevalent issue on many college campuses. As a mother, the thought of sending my teenager into such an environment is undeniably worrisome.

I must admit, I find myself questioning this whole college narrative and looking more and more at alternatives. I want my teenager to follow her dreams, not the crowds. I want her to be true to herself and not be afraid to explore different paths than her friends. Society often pressures young people to conform to certain expectations or pursue conventional paths to success. However, true fulfillment comes from pursuing one’s passions and carving out a unique path in life.

Why do we not look more seriously and respectfully at college alternatives, such as a career in the skilled trades? We don’t hear enough about how much the skilled trades have to offer, such as opportunities for personal growth, financial stability, and professional success.

Gone are the days when the skilled trades were viewed as “lesser” career paths. Society’s perception of these professions has evolved, recognizing the vital role they play in our economy and communities. Skilled trades encompass a wide range of professions, including licensed practical nurses, respiratory therapists, real estate appraisers,  electricians, construction managers, home inspectors, aircraft mechanics, wind turbine technicians, dental hygienists, plumbers, HVAC technicians, carpenters, welders, automotive technicians, among others. These trades require specialized training, often through apprenticeships or vocational programs, and offer promising career prospects.

The skilled trades offer an alternative avenue for those who prefer hands-on learning and practical skill development. By honing their craft in fields, teenagers can embark on fulfilling careers that align with their strengths and passions. One of the greatest advantages of a career in the skilled trades is the demand for skilled workers. Across various industries, there is a significant shortage of qualified professionals in the trades. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, many skilled trade occupations are projected to experience faster-than-average growth in the coming years. This demand translates into ample job opportunities and competitive salaries for individuals with the right skills and training.

Moreover, pursuing a career in the skilled trades does not mean forgoing education altogether. Many trade programs and apprenticeships offer opportunities for individuals to earn certifications, licenses, or even associate degrees from local colleges for those who one day want to run their own business. These educational pathways provide a solid foundation of knowledge and skills while also allowing individuals to gain practical, hands-on experience in their chosen field.

Another aspect of the skilled trades that appeals to me as a mother is the emphasis on lifelong learning and continuous skill development. In today’s rapidly evolving world, staying relevant and adaptable is essential for long-term success. Think about the growth of AI – I feel quite confident that AI will not replace a dental hygienist, a carpenter, or a real estate agent.

Tradespeople are constantly learning new techniques, technologies, and best practices to stay ahead of the curve. This commitment to learning ensures that individuals in the trades remain competitive and capable of tackling new challenges throughout their careers.

As I envision my teenager’s future, I see a multitude of opportunities and possibilities. I want my child to explore all available options and choose a path that aligns with their interests, strengths, and aspirations. College may be the right choice for some, but not for everyone.

Isn’t a fulfilling and prosperous career, with the potential to make a meaningful impact in their chosen field and beyond what most of us want for our kids? Then, let’s support and respect an exploration of alternatives. 

Given the chance, I believe our kids will amaze us!

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