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Generation Z and a Career in Skilled Trades

Millennials have received a fair share of headlines and news over the last few years, including the fact they are now the largest demographic in the U.S., having recently overtaken Baby Boomers. However, as Millennials begin to settle into the adult-phase of their lives, there is a new demographic growing up right before our eyes:

Generation Z.

Generation Z (often referred to as Post-Millennials or the iGeneration) aren't classified yet by certain birth years, but they're identified by their widespread usage, and comfort, of social media and the Internet, from an extremely young age. Some people suggest that having grown up through the Great Recession gives this particular cohort a feeling of unsettlement.

It is this underlying sense of insecurity that might lead many Generation Z'ers to forego "traditional" 4-year-colleges, and turn, instead, to the security that has become associated with skilled trades jobs.

According to a 2015 Forbes article, the average cost of attending a four-year public college is $28,000 (and $59,000 for a private college). The article goes on to say that the cost of higher education continues to rise (with no signs of slowing down), and estimates that by 2021, the average cost of a 4-year public college tuition will be $41,420.

Taken over four years, and Generation Z college graduates risk accruing a debt of $120,000+, before they ever enter the workforce (private college graduates could face debt well above $350,000).

For a generation that experienced the instability of the Great Recession during their formative years, you can see why Generation Z'ers are seeking alternative options.

Often times, that option involves learning a trade, such as welding.

There are many reasons why younger generations might flock toward a career in skilled trades.

The debt

For starters, of course, is to avoid the debt we discussed above. In addition to paying tens of thousands of dollars each year for an education, students who attend a traditional college are also typically forced to delay their careers for four years.

People who choose to pursue a specific trade can usually begin their careers within two years, and without the massive debt that is currently plaguing the nation.

The prospects

Then there's the job prospects. You would assume that graduates of a 4-year school would be all but guaranteed a job in their chosen career.

But the numbers tell a different story.

In fact, each year, thousands of college grads pour into the workforce, vying for a limited number of jobs. And, as technology continues to evolve, more and more of these jobs are becoming redundant or unneeded.

You've heard the stories before - college grads moving back home with their parents because they struggle to find a viable career that allows them to go out on their own.

Graduates of a skilled trades curriculum, however, enjoy a different fate. The nation is currently facing a skills gap when it comes to jobs such as welding. In short, a large majority of men and women in skilled labor are aging Baby Boomers who are nearing retirement age. At the same time, younger generations of workers have chosen not to pursue a career in skilled labor.

Couple that with a growing need for skilled laborers (as the country looks to update its infrastructure) and what you have is a high demand for work, but a low supply of workers to fulfill the need.

All this means people who enter the workforce with training in a skilled trade will likely not struggle to find a well-paying job where they get to directly apply their skills and knowledge.

Students are being introduced to skilled trades at a younger age

Math and science have long been the areas of focus for public education, as our country looked to become more competitive on the world stage. This, of course, is a good thing. At the same time, however, funding for, and emphasis on, courses such as wood shop, metal shop and others became sparse.

But, because of the skills gap discussed above, many public-school districts realize the importance of introducing wider options to their students. It's not uncommon for middle-school and high-school-aged students to be exposed to a variety of skilled labor jobs. This exposure helps them realize that they may not need to go to a 4-year school to pursue a passion or build a career.

Is it time for Generation Z to consider the skilled trades?

Not every student is college bound. For years, people have been taught to be ashamed of this fact; however, perspectives are changing. As more college grads accrue larger debts, and struggle to find jobs, the notion of pursuing a career in the skilled trades doesn't seem so "unconventional" any longer.

Perhaps it's time for younger generations to keep every option open as they look to make their own mark in this world.

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