Trade jobs offer career success without college degree

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Many high school graduates already know where they are continuing their education, but there are other options for those who are still on the fence.

Romond Holt is the outreach coordinator for the Builders’ Association in North Kansas City. He wants graduates to know that trade jobs are just as attractive as college degrees.

“You don't know what you don't like until you at least try,” Holt said. “Not everybody wants to go to college, but everybody wants to be successful.”

According to a national survey conducted by the Associated General Contractors of America, 72 percent of contractors in the Midwest struggle to find qualified trade workers.

“We're trying to change the image as far as making this more of a career path,” Holt said.

The Builders' Association has an apprenticeship program called "Earn While You Learn."

It's a free four-year commitment that pays apprentices to learn trades including bricklayers, ironworkers, painters and more; apprentices also have the opportunity to earn college credit.

“We expect our candidates to work 40 hours a week,” Holt said. “Eighty percent of the time, they're at the construction site working with their hands and tools.”

“Most apprentices in the metro area start out between $15-$17 an hour and it progressively gets higher,” Brian Garret, a training instructor and President of Iron Workers Local 10, said.

Garret went to college but did not graduate; he said it just wasn’t for him.

“I had no desire to go and I went and wasted money for a while and then became an iron worker,” Garret said.

Forty percent of students who enroll in a four-year degree fail to graduate in six years, according to research from Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce; thirty percent of graduates end up in jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree.

“The biggest thing is I don`t have this giant bill at the end of my training that I have to pay back, and I`ve been making a wage since I`ve been going to school,” Garret said.

If the pays good and there are plenty of job opportunities, why is there a gap in filling the positions? Garret admits trade jobs have an image problem.

“The perception that your tradesmen are settling because they`re not smart enough to go to school or whatever, I think that`s the thing we`ve got to overcome,” Garret said.

Parents can also play a role in the stigma attached to vocational jobs.

Jim Oliver is the construction trades instructor at the Herndon Career Center in Raytown. He said talking to parents about college alternatives is not an easy conversation, but he believes students should have the choice to continue their education in any capacity.

“As a parent, you always want to say college is going to be the greatest option for them,” Oliver said. “They're going to get more education, but sometimes that`s not the way. Not every kid is made to go directly into the work field, but some kids aren't made to go directly into college.”

Twelve out of the sixteen seniors in his class are choosing a trade job over college, including Alex Arbuckle, who plans to join a carpenter’s union this summer.

“I wanted to go to college to get my degree in civil engineering, but whenever I came into here Mr. Oliver opened my eyes to the different aspects of what career I could actually take,” Arbuckle said.

His classmate, Justin Lusignan is headed to community college with the hopes of eventually graduating from Pitt State in Kansas.

“My mom went to college,” Lusignan said. “My dad didn't go to college and I just figured it's right for me. College is my drive.”

While Lusignan has some concern about college debt, both students said their parents are supportive of their respective decisions.

“There's plenty of avenues you can take in order to get to the higher level you want to achieve,” Lusignan said.

And, that is what Holt wants other young people to realize. You're in control of your success and it comes in different forms.

“We have to continue to reach out to our communities, continue to reach out to our local schools as far as educating our students on skill trades to continue building America,” Holt said.

Most trade apprenticeships require you be at least 18 years old, have a high school diploma or GED and a valid driver's license. There are some downsides to choosing a trade, including working in the elements and the work is dependent on the economy, but insiders say the pros far outweigh the cons.

To learn more about the Builders’ Association and its apprenticeship program, click here.