Higher education is defined as “various types of education given in postsecondary (after high school) institutions of learning and usually affording, at the end of a course of study, a named degree, diploma, or certificate of higher studies” (Encyclopedia Britannica).
Construction trades programs are often overlooked when higher education opportunities are being considered. The education behind trades like carpentry, electrical, welding, and pipefitting is every bit as rigorous and rewarding as most college degrees and sets up students for careers that make a difference and pay well. It’s time we start looking at construction trades training as a true form of higher education. Craft education can have both secondary and postsecondary components; an example would be a high school carpentry class or a pre-apprenticeship program. The majority, however, of in-depth trades training happens at the postsecondary level. Unlike a college degree program, this education is split between classroom work and on-the-job training; this allows students to earn while they learn, being paid for their on-site labor with wages that increase in proportion to their experience and time in the training program.
Colleges and universities provide degrees, diplomas, and transcripts; employers can quickly see a degree listed on a resume and understand the depth and quality of the graduate’s education. The modern construction industry has equivalent indicators of competency for craft professionals, apprentices, and trainees, including credentials, certifications, and licenses. It’s a common misconception that construction work is unskilled labor, that anyone can pick up a shovel or a hammer and do the job well. Would you want your home or office building built by a team of people with no education or formal skills training in the tasks required to build those structures?
Opportunities in construction are abundant. According to the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER), in September 2021, the United States has 430,000 open construction jobs, and it is estimated that there will be shortage of 1 million construction trades professionals by 2023. The problem is projected to get worse, with an estimated 53% of the current construction workforce retiring by 2036. Demand means opportunities. With thousands of jobs available, it is easy for future craft professionals to find training and work.
- Construction careers pay well with no college debt.
- The average base salary of almost 30 different trades exceeds $55,000 annually. When adding in overtime, travel, and other potential incentives, it’s possible for skilled workers to earn six figures. (NCCER)
- Moving up the ranks can happen quickly. In just a few years, a tradesman can go from an apprentice to a journeyman, and eventually to jobsite leadership positions such as foreman, project manager or superintendent.
It is significant to spread the message that construction careers were deemed “essential” (i.e., absolutely necessary) during the COVID-19 pandemic. This will help students, parents, and others understand that the construction industry is more secure than the many others that suffered economically during the near shut down of the country in 2020 – 2021. There will always be a demand for construction workers.