Starting Your Career

A Parent's Guide To Their Kid's Future Careers In The Skilled Trades

Jason Burns
Sr Content Strategist

Posted 11/12/2019

Ask any parent with teenagers what they hope their kids will do after they graduate from high school, and a majority of them will tell you they expect their child to go to college. Go ahead, admit it, you probably do too. Whether you’re a father of three boys, two daughters or one son, you and your spouse likely can’t envision anything other than your kids walking across the stage at a university graduation and receiving a degree.

For decades, the message has been clear – if you want to succeed in life, you must go to college and get a degree. But today, success with a college degree is far from a sure bet. At best, young adults are walking away from college with fewer well-paying opportunities, greater competition and enough debt to keep them in payment plans for the next 20 years. 

While the intentions of higher education have been good, it’s caused future generations to overlook other career paths that are now in high demand and could be much more profitable (and successful) options for today’s young people. One of those career options is the skilled trades.

Why the Skilled Trades?

Part of the reason the trades have not been a viable option is simple – only 4% of adults actually know enough about the skilled trades to recommend them to their kids. In fact, many of you are probably sitting and reading this article thinking that construction work is for people that don’t have other options and who aren’t that smart.

But what if we told you that over 10% of the millionaires in the United States have built their wealth in the skilled trades? And that it’s possible to be making 6-figure salaries within the first five years as a tradesperson? Or that the number of female tradespeople has doubled in the last five years and continues to grow?

Have we got your attention yet?

The skilled trades are in high demand, which is what makes them an excellent choice as a future career path for high school students and graduating seniors still trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives. If you think your child may be well-suited for a career in the trades, here's how to get that conversation started.

Educate Yourself

There is a wealth of information online to help parents better understand the skilled trades and the opportunities available. Here on the Generation T website you can learn more about some of the individual career paths on our trades pages and find out what a day in the life would be like for your son or daughter. Information on pay, career paths, all of it is available online. Think about the questions your son or daughter might have and make sure you have the answers.

Many people have a skewed idea of what the skilled trades are and the pros and cons of working in them. Start the conversation by taking advantage of a time when your child shows a skill or interest that seems like it would be a good fit, and use that as a jumping-off point. Maybe your teen really loves to build models or shows an interest in electrical engineering. You can talk about how workers in the trades get to explore and work with these things every day on the job and how they might really enjoy getting to make a full-time (and well-paying) career out of their interests and hobbies.

A big draw to the skilled trades for many young people is that it doesn't mean sitting at a desk 40 hours a week. Today's generation prizes flexibility, making a positive difference and a change of pace when it comes to a work environment, and the trades deliver just that.

Be Honest About the Education and Training Required

The average cost of a four-year degree at public institution in the United States was $37,640, and that's for in-state tuition, according to CollegeBoard. Many high school students have seen their older friends and family members struggle with the weight of trying to pay for student loans while also trying to find an entry-level job that pays a living wage. The skilled trades can offer another path that doesn't require a college education and lets you jump right into an apprenticeship to get hands-on training and start working in your chosen career from day one. It also offers clear upward mobility as you move through the skilled ranks.

The skilled trades can also be a great choice for kids who just don't want to be part of the college experience or who seem like they may not be a great fit for the traditional academic atmosphere. This doesn't have anything to do with intelligence or future success, but kinetic learners, for example, may have an easier and more enjoyable time in nontraditional learning environments like the skilled trades have to offer.

Finish Off With Pay Expectations

While job satisfaction and work-life balance rank high on the list of priorities for this generation, adequate pay is important too. Many people have the preconceived idea that the skilled trades don't offer competitive wages. In fact, these blue collar jobs can pay just as much — or more — than jobs that are traditionally thought of as well-paying. It might help to have some examples handy to prove your point, as your child may be more willing to believe actual statistical data than just what Mom or Dad tells them.

Electricians made an average of $55,190 per year as of 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, this can jump up to $80,000-$90,000 for high-level commercial electricians in some areas. This is more than paralegals, advertising sales agents and elementary school teachers — all of which require some type of college education.

If you think your child may be an ideal candidate for a career in the skilled trades, starting that conversation can help them see the benefits of going into an apprenticeship instead of undergrad. When they're ready to learn more about the skilled trades, Generation T has a wealth of information on what to expect salary- and job growth-wise, as well as how to get started.