Note: This is Part 3 of a 5-Part series on why high school graduates should skip college. The idea is to present ideas to high-school and college-aged students who may be looking for an alternative to a 4 year university. If this is not you, that’s cool. Please read on. I think there is an argument worth hearing if you are interested.


“If you teach a man anything, he will never learn.”

Charles Bernard Shaw


Sometimes, when everyone is going right, the best way to turn is left.

Which, seeing as more than 70% of high-school graduates are are attending college, is going to help make this argument very easy.

“Winston, hold my coat while I go handle dis’ light work real quick.” 


The Most In-Demand Jobs Right Now


Every year, The Manpower Group, the world’s leader in helping companies find workers, puts together an annual study on the talent shortage globally.

And for the past 6 years, the same group of jobs has had the highest demand worldwide.

It is the same job group that was the most in-demand in 2018 in the United States. 

Skilled labor.

Electricians, carpenters, plumbers, technicians, mechanics, pipe fitters…. We need em.  In 2017, 82% of members from the National Association of Home Builders said finding skilled labor was their #1 problem. 

This article from NPR quotes a study suggesting there are more than 30 million jobs in the US that pay an average of $55,000 a year and DO NOT require a bachelor’s degree. 

30 million. Even if we assume that only half of those jobs are for skilled laborers, that is enough work to employ the entire states of Pennsylvania and Iowa. 

The demand for skilled workers is so obvious, it is one of the only things Presidents Obama and Trump might ever agree on. 

In 2016, under Obama, the US government awarded more than $175 million dollars in apprenticeship grants to public-private employers. In 2017, President Trump issued this executive order, calling for the continued expansion of apprenticeship programs across the country.

If you look at the US Department of Labor’s webpage on apprenticeships, there are more than 150,000 companies offering apprenticeships for 1,000 different occupations. 

The point?

Our country’s blind obsession with college over the past 30 years has created a blue collar ocean of working opportunities. 

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the wide-open world of skilled trades. 


Skilled Trades In-Demand And Likely to Stay There


What makes skilled trades even more enticing is that the demand for these jobs is only going to go up.

The average trades worker in the US right now is about 54 years old. Due to the demand put on their body, most skilled trades workers retire by 60.

That means that in just a few years, there is going to be a huge void to fill. Estimates predict that by 2020, more than 31 million Baby Boomers who work in skilled labor will retire. One local study in Kansas City estimated that 50% of all of their skilled labor jobs will be vacant in the next five years.

Some estimates predict that 60% of ALL skilled trades workers nationwide will retire within the next 10 years.

Whatever the exact number, the point is that there will be a lot of jobs to fill. Like A LOT.

Some of you might argue that labor is dead. That it is going to be replaced by AI. And you’re right. Manual labor is going to be replaced by AI. But skilled labor won’t.

In fact, as AI becomes more and more prevalent, it is only going to create more jobs for skilled laborers. Someone needs to monitor and repair the robots, right? 

Plus, many skilled trades workers work on things that are a basic necessity to day-to-day life, making their work important and hard to replace. 

Growing up, I had a friend’s mom who owned a hair salon. She once told me that one of the things she loved the most about her job was it’s security.

“People always gonna need haircuts.” 

There is the same type of job security with many skilled labor jobs.

Plumbers, electricians and carpenters help provide things like water, electricity and shelter. Which are pretty important to just about everybody. Which makes these jobs extremely secure. 

Well paying, In-demand and secure long-term. That is just about the trifecta when it comes to finding a job. 


A Story


Photo Credit: Ricky Kharawala via Unsplash


In the fall of 2012, Sue Hammelcar was about to graduate high school.

Sue was nervous about the transition. She was excited to be done with high school but she wasn’t sure what to do next. She thought about college, but deep down felt it wasn’t the right choice.

She really doesn’t like to talk about it and people have always been nice, but she knew since the 5th grade that school wasn’t her “thing.”

She can still remember the embarrassment of having to sit by the teacher’s desk and master her times tables, out loud, while her classmates worked on algebra equations. 

But Sue got by. She got by because she was kind and friendly and she worked hard. People like Sue. Her earnestness and honesty are obvious. She is not there to lie, cheat or steal.

Sue has lots of friends, and her friendships with teachers and classmates helped her get by.

It’s not like Sue’s a moron. She’s very practical and once she gets something, she gets it. It just takes her longer to get it than most people.

She didn’t hate school either. Quite the opposite in fact. Sue just preferred some parts more than others. Sue liked art class. And gym. And spending time with her friends.

As senior year flew by, everyone started making plans for college.

Sue really wanted to be with her friends, but deep down something told her she shouldn’t go.

It sucked hat everyone looked so “subtly concerned” whens she mentioned she didn’t know about college. It was frustrating to have to explain herself. People just didn’t know what a struggle school could be. 

Plus there was the cost. Sue’s family situation was stable, but she ” knew what branch of the economic tree we lived on,” and it wasn’t high up. 

Sue really just wanted to be able to find a good job and help her parents for a year or two. Then, she would figure it out. At the time, she had a younger brother who was starting high school and she thought it’s be cool to be around and help him have a fun high school experience. 

Sure, if she really wanted it, Sue knew she could have taken out the loans and payed for school and busted her ass and graduated to get an office job somewhere. But why?

That meant losing a lot of money doing something she didn’t like. 

What to do, what to do. 

And then, one day, Sue shared her concerns with her counsellor. The counsellor brought up the idea of apprenticing. She talked about how much opportunity there was in the skilled trades job market and how the average salary was $50,000 and how students got paid to learn. 

She also talked about how the fees for vocational schools and trades schools were a fraction of the cost of universities. She said that if Sue really wanted, she could quit after a year without any serious cost. 

Sue became interested. Good money right off the bat and lots of opportunity sounded pretty good to her. 

Sue visited the US Bureau of Labor Statistics website with her counsellor, looked into the different trades and decided that being an electrician sounded pretty good.

She read how electricians make, on average, almost $5,000 more than the average college graduate. She also read about how people skills were important for electricians, which she had.

Most importantly, Sue liked that, if she completed the apprenticeship, she would be able to work by herself. Sue hated group projects in school. Everyone staring and waiting and smirking. 

So Sue took out a small loan and enrolled in a local technical college. The coursework was hard, but Sue kept at it. Within a few months, she built a pretty good relationship with one of her instructors, who then helped her land an apprenticeship with a local electrician who was a friend of his.

Sue actually liked the work a lot more than she thought she would. She liked that it was more memorization and planning than theory. She could remember patterns and colors better than theorems and equations. It turned out that being an electrician suited the way her mind worked and how she learned.

In her first full year as an apprentice, Sue made a little more than $30,000. It wasn’t “rappers on big boats with champagne type of money”, but for Sue and her family, this extra income made a big difference.

The money helped Sue pay off her student loan and put a down payment on a used car.

She began paying rent, and this extra money helped her parents have extra money for family trips and a tuxedo rental for her brother’s homecoming. Sue loved helping her family and not seeing them not have to worry about money so much.

By year two of her apprenticeship, Sue was liking the work more and more. She got along with her boss. He was apprehensive about hiring a woman at first, but after he saw that Sue worked hard, he warmed up to Sue. It helped that Sue was a natural when it came to chatting with the families whose homes they worked in. She had an uncanny way of making people feel comfortable when she explained a billing issue. 

Sue was making enough money to move into an apartment with a friend, but she decided to wait. She wanted to keep helping her parents. She decided to finish her vocational training before moving out on her own. 

By year three of her apprenticeship, Sue was making little more than $40,000 a year. She had moved into her own apartment with a friend. She is still helping her family, but she is also saving her money. She has seen how her boss bought a boat with the money he made from rental properties and she’d like to do the same. 

At work, her boss loved that he could trust her in front of clients. In a profession dominated by men, it turned out to be a huge advantage for Sue to have a female touch with things. 

By year four, Sue accepted an offer to finish the final year of her apprenticeship with a much larger firm. She signed a one year contract for more than $50,000 a year. She found it funny that her college friends were graduating and easing into jobs that paid much less.  

By the time she turned 23, Sue had finished her apprenticeship. She has a car that was fully paid off, a nice apartment and more than $25,000 in the bank. Sue left the firm she was working for and began working for herself as a journeywoman electrician.

Being a woman in an industry where 97% of her competition are men, Sue actually ended up creating a nice little niche. Just like in high school, people like her. Contractors know that she does good work and that she is honest. It’s crazy how successful you can be in the trades business if you are honest and trustworthy. 

Sue quickly built a strong relationships with several contractors and by the end of her first year on her own was making more than $60,000. Sue saves and saves, all the while eyeing her first home. 

In 2017, Sue purchased, in the form of a cashier’s check, her first house. It’s a duplex that she bought for cheap at a foreclosure auction after a friend of hers who owns a construction firm mentioned it to her. 

It’s a complete fixer-upper, but that’s no sweat. She has friends throughout the trades industries who she can call on for help. She helps them, they help her. 

It takes a few months, but soon Sue’s half of the duplex is finished. She moves in, all the while chipping away at the second half. 

In 2018, Sue finishes renovating the second half of the duplex and has it rented. Her renters pay for her to live for free, with a little cash cushion, which allows Sue to start saving money again.

Now Sue is hooked. She likes this real estate thing.

Towards the end of 2018, Sue decides to take out a loan for a second duplex. She goes through the same rehab process, putting in the time and the money to fix the duplex up and by the end of the year, she has it rented out. 

The rent from her duplexes easily covers her monthly loan payment, and also becomes a source of residual income. 

Currently, Sue is 25, has some debt (but the good kind, not the unforgivable student loan kind), a car that is fully paid off and two properties putting money in her pocket each month. 

Is this successful enough for you? 

Sue is planning to travel some. She’s always wanted to visit Europe. Since she works for herself, she can take off whenever she wants, for however long she wants and always come back and pick things up where she left off.

Plus, the money from her duplexes will help to fund her travels once she leaves. Her younger brother is going to watch over things while she’s gone. He’s just turned 20 and could use a cheap place to stay. 


This wasn’t a real story.

I made the whole thing up. Sue, her brother, the jobs, the houses….everything. 


And while I know I created a perfect-case scenario for someone who decides to become an apprentice, ask yourself this:

Is the outcome that I painted that unrealistic? Is what Sue did that difficult to replicate? Is helping your family, making good money and then setting yourself up for a really fun 25 – 35 not a pretty successful life?

Somewhere out there, Sue’s story is waiting to happen. Somewhere there is a student who is a good person, who works hard and is honest but who just wasn’t made for school. 

The only question is, will someone be there to encourage that person to go to the left. To do what suits them, and not what suits society. 

School just ain’t for everyone. And there is a lot of success and happiness to be found outside of a college campus. 

Now, on to some resources that might help, should you be interested in finding an apprenticeship.

  1. – FANTASTIC website with information on how to enter a specific trade and search tools to help you find trade schools near you
  2. – Some people might need some convincing that school isn’t for them. This is a link to the Jung Typology test. It is a personality test. It is designed to help people determine what type of jobs they might enjoy. Take this. Answer honestly. The only person you hurt by lying is yourself.
  3. – US Bureau of Labor Statistics. A great site for finding information about different trades jobs. 
  4. – This is the US Department of Labor’s re-vamped website focused entirely on apprenticeships. You can search for programs by state. There are more than 150,000 employers and more than 1,000 occupations you can learn. You can find positions in in dynamic industries such as advanced manufacturing, healthcare and even renewable energy
  5. – This site has useful information on apprenticeship programs in the US and Canada and what is needed to apply. Focus is on trades, but there is a lot of other good information as well.
  6. – This is a great article full of information on the shortage of trades workers in the US. There are a links to courses and programs for skilled trades workers. 
  7. – This is an assessment put together that is designed to help you determine what careers might be a good fit for you. 
  8. – This is a well-researched article with fantastic information on the skilled labor jobs that will be in highest demand. 
  9. – Great article on the difficulty of becoming an electrician. 


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