From Caps To Hard Hats: Why More Gen Zers Are Ditching College For Trades

Getting a degree was, until recently, the gold standard for having a decent life. However, more and more Gen Zers are instead ditching the traditional college route for a lucrative trade.

But why are so many of them making this choice? Let’s find out!

Why Are More Zoomers Choosing Trades?

Trade and vocational schools give many Gen Zers a faster and cheaper way to start a career than a bachelor’s degree. Many programs only take 1 or 2 years to finish, versus the 4+ years for a typical undergrad program.

With most of these programs focusing on giving you real-world skills, trade school can also help you find a stable paying job in a few short months. This clear path to employment is a win if you want to earn money as soon as possible.

Four-year degrees give you a well-rounded education, no doubt. But they don’t always connect directly to one particular job. Many graduates struggle to find work that matches their major and take jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree.

And given how pricey college is now and seeing their older siblings (or even their parents!) being saddled with debt, many Gen Zers are questioning whether it’s worth the investment.

Financial Realities Driving the Shift

Most of these changes ultimately come down to one culprit: higher tuition costs.
Fees have skyrocketed, becoming a huge financial burden for many families. Average annual costs at private nonprofit four-year colleges now exceed $50,000 per year. Even in-state students at public schools face tuition and fees of $10,000 or more every year.

These expenses strain budgets and lead to massive student loan debts. In fact, the average Class of 2021 grad had a whopping $37,000 to pay off. That’s a massive liability when you’re only 22 and just starting your career!

For this reason, many teens are reconsidering the standard college path. They don’t want to be saddled with such high debts so early, potentially putting other milestones on hold for a degree.

Highest Paid Trades For Gen Zers In 2024

Vocational schools are more appealing considering the lower starting costs, career-focused training, and higher starting salaries many trades offer. Let’s look at five of the highest-paid trades predicted for 2024 you should consider.

Note that the state you reside in and your experience will affect the salary range to be higher or lower.

1. HVAC Technicians

Average Annual Salary: $49,500 per year

If you’ve ever had the displeasure of dealing with a broken A/C during the hottest summer month, you’ve probably had to call your local technician to check it out.

HVAC techs install, maintain, and fix heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration systems. They play a crucial role in keeping homes and businesses comfortable.

2. Construction Managers

Average Annual Salary: $83,271

Construction managers oversee all aspects of building projects, from planning to coordination and supervision of workers. They ensure projects are completed on time, on budget, and up to quality standards.

3. Solar Panel Installers

Average Annual Salary: $37,985

With more homes and businesses transitioning to sustainable energy, solar panel installers are in massive demand. These experts install, maintain, and repair solar panels on rooftops or other structures, reducing homeowners’ carbon footprint and energy bills.

4. Aircraft Mechanics

Average Annual Salary: $64,385

Do you get excited by seeing others travel to their dream vacation spot? Aircraft mechanics play a critical part in making that happen. They inspect, repair, and service aircraft to ensure they meet performance standards and keep you safe.

5. Plumbers

Average Annual Salary: $63,215

A reliable plumber installs, fixes, and maintains plumbing systems in homes, businesses, and other buildings. They ensure people can access clean water, efficient drainage, and proper sanitation.

The Bottom Line

Gen Zers have tough choices to make when planning their career paths. The cost of a four-year degree keeps climbing, while salaries for some trades now match or even exceed those of many typical entry-level corporate gigs.

It makes sense that Gen Zers see vocational schools as a faster, more reliable way to gain employment without being crushed by debt before their careers even start.

Does a trade career appeal to you? Look into programs at your local technical or community college. Many offer affordable, quality training that preps you for in-demand jobs in growing fields!

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