Chamber News

Making a Case for the Skilled Trades | Columbus Chamber Connection | May 2024

May 23rd, 2024

Over the weekend, I received my first high school graduation party invitation of the season.  Opening the envelope, I experienced a bit of a gut punch, when I realized that the young person being celebrated was just a baby (in my mind) a few short years ago…another reminder that time does pass much too quickly.  I was also reminded that milestone events are being celebrated by a new group of graduates each spring; each one facing their new reality post high school. So, where are the newly minted graduates going and what career pathways are they choosing?

In a recent publication, The Wall Street Journal labeled Gen Z, the “Toolbelt Generation”, in a nod to young people choosing careers in the trades vs. enrollment in a 2- or 4-year college, citing the rising cost of college and increased opportunities in the skilled trades. Many young people and their families see a well-paying job in their future, through industry credentials and certificates, in lieu of a degree.

More than half of Gen Zer’s say it’s possible to get a good job with either an associate degree, industry recognized credentials or a high school diploma, provided one acquires other skills. That’s according to a survey by New America, a Washington Think Tank that focuses on a range of public policy issues.

Examples of Jobs Requiring an AA or credential/certification:

  • Electricians (vocational schools/apprentice programs)
  • Dental Hygienist (associate degree)
  • Plumbers (vocational schools/apprentice programs)
  • Elevator mechanics (vocational school/associate degree)
  • HVAC technicians (vocational schools/associate degree)

More from the same WSJ article:

  • Enrollment in vocational programs jumped 16% last year, according to the National Student Clearinghouse.
  • The median age of workers in several trades, like carpentry and HVAC maintenance, is falling from the mid-40s to early 40s or even high 30s.
  • 54% of Gen Z-ers say a high school diploma is enough to get a well-paying, stable job.
  • 46% of parents say they would prefer it if their kids pursued alternatives to four-year college.

As the tide is shifting with the newest entrants to the workforce seeking careers in the trades, educators and the business community must continue to collaborate on providing both career awareness and career exploration.

The Columbus Chamber of Commerce Foundation and the Educational Service Center of Central Ohio are pleased to kick off year 2 of Careers 2 Classrooms Boot Camp!

Kelly Fuller 
Senior Vice President of Columbus Chamber Foundation