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Thread: Go to college vs. learn a trade?

  1. #1
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    Go to college vs. learn a trade?

    I was reading a thread about hiring an electrician and it seems that tradespeople are all very busy and getting responses is difficult, At the same time I read stories all the time about college graduates working at low paying jobs that have nothing to do with their degrees.
    So I'm wondering if you had to give advice to your children (or in my case your grandchildren) would you recommend they learn a trade or go to college?
    Clearly what you major in (cybersecurity is probably pretty attractive vs, say poetry) will affect your potential future earnings.
    I might add that I worked at a trade (auto mechanic) before college and an MBA (don't hate me for it), so I have experience at both.
    Clearly much of the decision depends on the child but to be honest I'm leaning toward trade.
    What do you think?
    Last edited by dennis thompson; 10-03-2019 at 10:14 AM.
    Dennis

  2. #2
    If the young person has the capability and interest to major in a field that will offer good opportunity (such as computer programming, engineering, medical, law, accounting, finance, etc.) I would highly recommend going to college. If their interest is art history, they probably won't ever make much money.

    The trades are no picnic. Many of the trades are physically demanding and take a toll on the body. When the person gets older, the work gets harder. And the work is usually up and down. During the good times they do well but can really suffer in a downturn. I know a number of trades people and none of them are rich and all complain about physical limitations.

    A trade person can build a business, such as home building, and become a manager - hiring other people to do the physical labor.

    I went to college for engineering and I'm glad I did. It gave me a lot better life than I would have had otherwise. I look at some of my high school classmates who didn't go to college and many had a tough life.

    Mike
    Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good.

  3. #3
    My advice is always if you have a dream, follow it. If you are uniquely gifted, use and refine that gift. If you are passionate about it, make good business decisions, and are willing to expand your horizons, your career will never be "work" and you will make it in life financially.

    We need doctors, lawyers, teachers, businessmen, etc. the issue is degrees with low marketability and student debt.

    IMO what "higher education" is doing to these young people and their families with debt is criminal. Especially the private schools, many of which have mega-endowment funds - used to pay for construction and faculty retirement benefits. Go to any university today what is very common: multimillion dollar construction projects (of benefit to whom?) and professors making 6 figure incomes parachuting out with packages that any of us would die for.
    (Don't get me started - I got through professional school in the medical field with a total debt of $20K. You can't even go to my local community college 4 years for that now).

    That said, I know several young men who went the trade route after the completed their apprenticeship they have solid, well paying jobs. And no student debt. I think that's a huge factor.

  4. #4
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    For the longest time, there was the, um...societal push...that the path to prosperity was the road that included a college education and learning the trades was relegated to folks who were not "college material". It's come back to bite us as a society now as a good chunk of the population in "the trades" has aged and is naturally moving on to retirement, etc. The tune has changed and there is a push to show that the alternative to college...learning a trade...isn't an inferior path, but it's going to take awhile to be effective enough in the numbers. It doesn't help that "creating" has taken a backseat to things like sports, gaming and other pursuits, either. Tradespeople make good money and there is almost always work available. And IMHO, it's easier to find another situation as a tradesperson if it's necessary to move on, than it is in the business world these days, as long as one has skills and good work ethic. (business owners talk to each other, so obviously, one cannot be a screwup for long in a close community and expect to get work)

    In all honesty, the real winner might be the person who leans a trade as well as gets a business education. They go hand-in-hand. While I never worked in the trades throughout my full time working career, my business education served me well. Now that I'm "retired"...and, in effect, working as a tradesman with my business, that education is still supportive of what I'm doing as I create with the skills I learned since the late 1990s as an avocation. I can also command an hourly rate that is right up there with what I was making as a very successful professional prior to retirement.

    So my answer to the original question in general would be that I'd encourage a positive comparison of a college degree vs trade. One is not better than the other outside of the specific interests of the individual choosing. My younger is a junior in college and is destined to be an effective manager...she already is in her work-work. That's suitable for her personality and interests. My older is better suited to "the trades"...in fact, despite her disabilities and ability to only work part time, she's a very talented florist. They are both successful because they are going the route that is best suited for them individually.
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  5. #5
    We tend to hear about outliers (the art history grad with $200k debt making $8/hr) and ignore the mundane (which is that the average college grad makes >$1M more over her career compared to someone without college education).

    Jim's right, though: sit down and make an informed comparison, taking into account the individual's strengths, interests, etc.

  6. #6
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    Learning a trade today is greatly benefited by having served in an apprenticeship, with at least a 2 year college degree in specific courses related to the trade.
    In doing this the apprentice is setting him or herself up to advancement at an older age in a business or leadership situation.

  7. #7
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    We tend to hear about outliers (the art history grad with $200k debt making $8/hr) and ignore the mundane (which is that the average college grad makes >$1M more over her career compared to someone without college education).
    I would imagine if you compared just the trades, to those with a college degree. The number would be much smaller. My son went to a 2 year college for a trade. He makes, much more than his sister with a BS. He has 10,000 in student loans she has 50,000.

    Out of my five children the one who makes the most is my son who has 1/2 of a semester in college. He is a natural born salesman. My other two daughters one is a midwife the other is a Doctor of physical therapy.
    Last edited by Jim Becker; 10-03-2019 at 5:55 PM. Reason: Fixed quote tagging
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  8. #8
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    Living and working as a tradesman can be very rewarding in terms of independence and freedom of movement however as life takes it's tolls insecurity is a more constant theme. The wear on joints will level down the vigorous and in all respects one is on it's own, for insurance, retirement savings, etc. Better to be a professional where one can earn credentials. Sometimes being a tradesman means putting down your head and doing the task rather than designing a better solution that is completely apparent. A tradesman is mostly hired to do the work and when done you are finished. It is better to target being in contracting and growing a business.

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  10. #10
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    I think there are too many kids who go to college to delay adulthood, and have unrealistic expectations of their skills. I know a couple of people who teach at colleges, and they say that college has become pretty much remedial high school. But its a business, so they want to keep their "customers" coming and paying.

    I think that the too common advice of "do what you love" should be replaced with "do what you're good at".

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Henderson View Post
    If the young person has the capability and interest to major in a field that will offer good opportunity (such as computer programming, engineering, medical, law, accounting, finance, etc.) I would highly recommend going to college. If their interest is art history, they probably won't ever make much money.

    The trades are no picnic. Many of the trades are physically demanding and take a toll on the body. When the person gets older, the work gets harder. And the work is usually up and down. During the good times they do well but can really suffer in a downturn. I know a number of trades people and none of them are rich and all complain about physical limitations.

    A trade person can build a business, such as home building, and become a manager - hiring other people to do the physical labor.

    I went to college for engineering and I'm glad I did. It gave me a lot better life than I would have had otherwise. I look at some of my high school classmates who didn't go to college and many had a tough life.

    Mike
    I agree completely with Mike.

    If you have the aptitude for university in a field that will provide you with a good career path, it's the best choice.

    If you head into a trade, pick one that you like, and try to get out of the physical aspect of the work as soon as you are able. Climbing onto roofs or hanging heavy pipe overhead are tasks for young people.

    Regards, Rod.

  12. #12
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    I have heard the least physically demanding trade is electrician so it is best for women. Not as much heavy lifting as other construction trades. It also requires the most math skills to calculate allowable load per panel, cable size ampacity etc.
    Most other construction trades all the math is done in the office and the results are spelled out on the plans. Rafter angles etc.

  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by Stan Calow View Post
    I think that the too common advice of "do what you love" should be replaced with "do what you're good at".
    I would add "And can make a decent living doing."

    I've seen too many people chase "glamor" jobs only to wind up with nothing.

    Mike
    Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good.

  14. #14
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    Some college grads are so deep in debt they will never pay back their loans. At the same time they my never own a home because of their educational debt. If your going to borrow money you had better be in a field that can provide a serious salary with growth potential. I have two daughters and personal knowledge concerning their college loans.

    Being happy in your job is of little consequence if you cannot pay your bills and your future looks pretty bleak.

    A young friend of mine went into the trades long enough to get his masters license in multiple disciplines and then started his own business. He has done extremely well over the years and at 40 years old has a new home that is paid for and savings beyond imagination. He is now able to work a reduced schedule and living on easy street. Demand for his services is at an all time high.
    Last edited by Keith Outten; 10-03-2019 at 3:08 PM.

  15. #15
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    You could learn a trade and go to college at night.

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