Get good grades so you can go to college and get a good job. That’s what thousands of parents tell their kids every year. But is it true?

As of 2020, 41% of recent college graduates were working in jobs that don’t require a college degree, with about 12% working for minimum wage. With college tuition more than doubling during the last decade, leaving the average college grad drowning in more than $30,000 of debt the second they pick up their diploma, perhaps it’s time to look for an alternative.

That alternative exists: The trades. The electrical trade has a huge talent shortage — not to mention other skilled trades such as carpenters, bricklayers, concrete workers, roofers, and plumbers. In fact, there’s a hiring boom in the trades, with 44% of employers unable to find the skilled tradespeople they need.

And yet we continue to nudge kids toward college, encouraging them to spend money, land in debt, and face the prospect of no job. Instead of looking down on the trades, it’s time to consider how to encourage people at all ages to take a hard look at learning a trade.

Kids: Encourage Them to Consider the Trades

Kids naturally love to build things. They love to solve puzzles and build Lego. They like to understand how things work, how to take things apart and put them back together. All this natural curiosity gets pushed aside, though, when they get to school and are told to sit at a desk for six hours a day, using only their minds and not their hands.

What if we encouraged kids who want to build things or fix things by teaching them the skills they need? There’s nothing wrong with book-learning — and in fact, a good handle on math is essential for any skilled tradesperson. But by actively discouraging and even denigrating the trades in schools, we end up harming kids who will never have any interest in going to college — and it does society no good either when you can’t find an electrician to install your new home surge protection system or fix the wiring when your stove stops working.

Many kids dream of the day they’ll be an adult with their own money to spend — and pursuing a trade is one solid way of making sure they fulfill that dream. Imagine the excitement of a child learning that they can make good money by doing the building and fixing that intrigues them so much in their free time.

High Schoolers: What About a Summer Job in the Trades?

Once kids get to high school, their future starts to feel real — and the college pressure starts to kick in. For most families, that means pressure to spend over $125,000 on a degree, and for 70% of all students, the pressure to take on student loan debt.

Those are some hefty commitments to sign on to at the age of 18. The average trade school, however, costs a fraction of a college education and gets students into the workforce sooner. And yet, according to a survey conducted by home improvement retailer Lowe’s, only 5% of U.S. parents encourage their kids to go into the trades — even though an anticipated 3 million new jobs in the electrical trade and other skilled trades are expected over the next seven years.

Instead of letting kids wander off to college with no plan for the future, just because that’s what everyone said they should do, why not give them a real choice? High schools could encourage this by reinstating the shop classes that have, in too many cases, been dropped from the curriculum. Fortunately, locally in the Greenville County School System, the Building Construction program opens doors to all sorts of students who don’t want to be chained to a desk for the rest of their lives.

Young men and women who don’t really know what they want to do with their lives should consider a summer job or apprenticeship with a local electrician or other tradesperson. Maybe they’ll find a future career waiting for them — and in any event, they’ll certainly learn some valuable skills (and they’ll realize how important math is in the real world).

Adults: Is It Time for a Career Change?

While it’s important for young people to realize that they have more career options than their schools are presenting to them, adults can also make mid-career changes that get them away from a desk and help them enjoy their workday. Many people head into office or retail jobs without thinking, only to realize that they’ve become cogs in a machine that they don’t care about. They’re spending their days working to advance goals they don’t share, with no control over their own time.

Working as an electrician, carpenter, or other skilled tradesperson is a career that many people find intensely satisfying. They can see the results of their work immediately, and they know they’re helping people. When you’re a tradesperson, you often can indulge your entrepreneurial side by starting your own business and being in control of your own destiny. And you get the freedom to work in different locations and on different projects without having to spend all day, every day, indoors breathing recycled air.

Becoming an electrician or other skilled tradesperson provides freedom in another way. No matter where you go in the United States, or even around the world, your skills are in demand. You’ve always wanted to live near the ocean or you’d like to live near your grandchildren? You have a marketable skill that makes it possible to live anywhere you want. Every state, city, and town in the country needs electricians — and plumbers, carpenters, masons, you name it.

Of course, the skilled trades aren’t for everyone, just as college isn’t for everyone. But how sad it would be if future electricians, carpenters, and plumbers were never encouraged to find their own path. At Upstate Electrical Solutions, we believe everyone should have the opportunity to do what they love — which is what we do every time we show up at your doorstop to troubleshoot your smoke detector, replace your circuit breakers, or fix a faulty outlet. Call us at 864.834.9955 for electrical repair or installation — or if your kids want to learn more about how fulfilling becoming an electrician can be.