Viewpoint: For A Secure Future Close To Home, Students Should Consider Professional Trades
Tom Quinn | Kirtland Community College
Students and their parents are faced with dozens of decisions in the final year of high school. Of all the big life choices ahead, perhaps the most important decision is where your student will be, and what career they’ll be pursuing, the fall after graduation.
Choosing whether to go straight into the workforce or continue their education is a tough decision for many students and their families. The word “college” can spark fears of lofty student loans, or moving far away from home—but it doesn’t have to be that way.
As high school graduates are making plans for next fall, I urge you to consider a community college education that will lead to a career in professional trades. These days trades are so much more than the “blue collar” image of years past. Trade professionals are hair stylists, medical assistants, welders, cyber security professionals, and so much more.
Why should students consider trades? The community college education needed for these jobs is affordable, job opportunities in Michigan are abundant, and graduates can build their lives in close proximity to the people they love (close to you!). If those aren’t strong considerations, I don’t know what is.
Most importantly, as a region we should be doing everything we can to encourage our young, talented residents to stay here and establish their careers here. The good news is, there is an incredible amount of opportunity if they choose that path.
Let’s talk numbers: U.S. students who graduate with a community college degree or certificate make an average salary of $48,800 per year, while high school graduates who go straight to work make an average of $30,500 per year. With a median income of $54,000 for professional trades (which is over 45% higher than other occupations), you don’t have to bury yourself in a pile of debt to obtain a well-paying job.
Not only are jobs for college graduates higher-paying, but they’re more stable too. The U.S. unemployment rate for those with an associates degree was 2.8% in 2018, while the unemployment rate for those with a high school diploma was 4.1%.
College doesn’t just open doors in terms of salary, but it opens numerous doors for career options too. Choosing a trade program in particular leads to a vast number of job opportunities: In the state of Michigan, there’s an expected 545,000 professional trade job openings over the next six years—annually, there are expected to be 47,000 openings.
Over 65% of Kirtland Community College graduates live in the area after graduation, and Kirtland and its students support 1 out of every 69 jobs in our service area.
Professional trade careers, achieved through community college education, are are both attainable and fulfilling. Options include:
• Cyber Security
• Automotive Technology
• Wood Science Technology
• Electrical Technology
And the return on investment is notable: For every dollar a student invests into Kirtland, they get $5.60 back in lifetime earnings.
So, if this is enticing to parents, how can they help their high school seniors decide if community college and professional trades are right for them? There are several ways:
• Encourage students to attend college fairs and events so they explore what it is like to go to college and talk to people who have been there.
• Experience campus first hand. Attend a campus tour and speak with current students.
• Explore the financial aid resources available to you by helping your child complete a free financial aid form.
• Complete scholarship applications. At Kirtland, we have more scholarships available than applicants to receive them. You have a good chance of receiving some extra help.
• Crunch the numbers. Run examples of future salaries compared to the cost of education.
Most of all, know that a degree doesn’t have to be out of reach. Through pursuing a career in professional trades, high school students can reach a bright, successful future, close to home. When they choose that path, each student, their families, and our entire region will benefit.