Skilled trade jobs go unfilled in our robust economy | Brunell

Millions of good-paying opportunities available in blue collar jobs

Millions of college graduates find themselves saddled with crushing debt and more than a third of them won’t be working in their chosen profession. Many will be working for low wages.

Meanwhile, there are millions of high-paid jobs are available in the skilled trades – electricians, plumbers, manufacturing workers, pipefitters, mechanics, appliance repair, computer techs, medical assistants and welders. Known as blue collar jobs, they routinely pay $45,000 to $65,000 a year or more. According to Salary.com, the average heavy equipment operator in Seattle earns more than $95,000 a year in wages and benefits.

From 2016 to 2021, job openings in manufacturing, production, installation, maintenance and repair are projected to outstrip the supply of skilled workers by three-to-one. To compete, many employers are not only providing scholarships, but even paying students to attend a technical school and offering internships.

They are stepping up their recruitment of military men and women leaving active duty because of their experience, training and dependability.

Why is there a shortage of skilled craft workers? One reason, we’ve tended to look down on those jobs.

My father, for example, inadvertently perpetuated that attitude. As a World War II vet, he used the GI bill to become an electrician. Even though he rose to the rank of master electrician and made a good living for his family, he pushed his kids to go to college. Despite his accomplishments, he felt a trade school education was second best.

True, studies show that, over a lifetime, college degrees may translate into higher incomes. But as they say, the devil is in the details.

First, you have to factor in the crushing burden of student loans which often take years to repay. In fact, the average student loan debt continues to grow. Class of 2016 graduates was $37,172, up six percent from the previous year.

Americans now owe over $1.48 trillion in student loans which is spread out among 44 million borrowers. That’s $620 billion more than the total U.S. credit card debt, the website Student Loan Hero recently reported. Now, the average monthly student loan payment (for borrower aged 20 to 30 years) is $351.

In many cities housing costs alone have escalated to the point that grads are either forced to share cramped quarters or move back home. As of June 2017, average apartment rent in Seattle was $2210 a month.

The Gazette-Review in Minneapolis pegs the average 2018 college grad will earn $50,000 annually.

“However, one should take this number with a great deal of salt. A diploma alone won’t secure this sort of salary in many cases, as there are many other factors to take into account,” it reported last week. Graduates with math, engineering, science and technical degrees fare better than those who majored in the liberal arts.

Mike Rowe, who hosted the Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs,” says we need to hit the reset button on higher education. He argues we should not be lending money to students who have no hope of making it back. Rowe believes many of the best career opportunities today require a skill, not a diploma.

To expand those opportunities, Rowe founded the mikeroweWORKS Foundation that awards trade school and apprenticeship program scholarships to young people who show both an interest and an aptitude for mastering a specific trade.

It doesn’t make sense for our country to primarily focus on college education when half of our career opportunities are for skilled workers. Ironically, in the real world, one of those trade school graduates will be called to the apartment of a struggling college grad to fix their plumbing for $200 an hour.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.

More in Opinion

From early indications, Gov. Jay Inslee may be making a run at the presidency in 2020. REPORTER FILE PHOTO
Is Inslee about to prep for presidential run?

Can a little known Thoroughbred from the Pacific Northwest capture the 2020… Continue reading

Cost, availability of health care poses a primary concern | Brunell

When Congress convenes next year, lawmakers must focus on the cost and… Continue reading

Vote ‘yes’ for small business and #ShopSmall on Saturday

Your spending dollars count for local merchants

‘Logical fallacies’ help each of us defend our arguments

What are logical fallacies? Ross Weisman’s article, “Is Your Reasoning Sound? A… Continue reading

Plenty at stake in the Palouse

Huskies, Cougars play for Pac-12 title game spot, major bowl and state bragging rights

Costs matter in hiring | Brunell

While both sides argue the merits of Seattle’s escalating minimum wage, there… Continue reading

Trump helped erase voter complacency

Young voters turned out in massive numbers

Reporter cartoon, Frank Shiers
From guns to climate, declaring election’s winners and losers

A surge in voter interest, a swelling in the ranks of Democratic… Continue reading

Cam-pains: Enough is enough

Don’t forget to vote by Tuesday, Nov. 6

City’s proposed B&O tax hike will hurt business, economy

We need to determine what is really a priority, what the community is willing to pay for in city services

Richard Elfers
‘Art of the Deal’ still key to understanding Trump

The book gave me a deeper understanding of President Trump and his unique style of leadership.