Why A Skilled Trade Career Does Not = No College

Recently, several high school counselors and employers in the skilled trades ask me to address a powerful misconception. It’s the notion that high school students can expect success in these careers without significant post-secondary training, certifications and even college degrees. Common sense, recent research and job market trends tell a different story.

Today, we’ll discuss the importance of pursuing college credits, including certificates, associate’s, and bachelor’s degrees in skilled trades.

The Changing Landscape of Skilled Trades

When I was in my late teens, I was a manager at a tire store in the summers between high school and college semesters. Recently, I visited my old store and I was amazed at how much had changed. Sure, the techs were still mounting and balancing tires, patching holes, and doing front-end alignments. But the tools were incredibly high-tech compared to what I used 20+ years ago. As one of the techs showed me around, he commented on how he had to go through training every time a new machine was added.

When considering a career in the skilled trades, it’s important to understand the evolving job market. The way that we build houses, repair cars, get medical care, etc. has changed dramatically over the last couple of decades and the pace of change is only getting faster. The demand for skilled labor is strong, and it continues to grow. To stay competitive and advance in these roles, employers increasingly look for candidates who have certificates, associate’s, and bachelor’s degrees earned from community colleges and universities.

The Value of College Credits for Skilled Trades

1. Higher Pay
While it’s true that skilled trades often offer strong earning potential without a traditional college degree, it’s worth noting that people with bachelor’s degrees still tend to earn more and have lower unemployment rates. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a college degree can significantly impact your financial stability and career prospects. Even within a specific skilled trade, possessing a college degree can open up more opportunities and unlock higher paying roles.

In the chart below, I’ve provided examples with links to the underlying data from O*net Online, the best source of data about job pay and availability. Check out the difference in median earnings from Wind Energy Operations Manager ($61.84/hr) vs. Wind Turbine Service Technician ($27.86/hr) and from Construction Manager ($48.79/hr) vs. Construction Laborer (S19.59/hr) and Carpenter ($24.71/hr). Then take note of what level of education that people in those industries said was necessary to do the jobs. More education generally means higher pay.

2. Career Longevity:
Many skilled trade jobs can be physically demanding and take a toll on your body over time. Pursuing college credits can give you the knowledge you need to transition into supervisory or leadership roles as you age. This let’s you to continue working and sharing your expertise and potentially avoid the physical toll that comes with hands-on work.

3. Teaching Opportunities: Another exciting pathway that opens up with college credits is the possibility of becoming a skilled trade instructor. With the increasing demand for skilled trades professionals like plumbers, hygienists, and early childhood educators, there is a growing need for knowledgeable instructors. Most teaching positions require candidates to hold at least a bachelor’s degree, making college credits an essential asset for those who want to pass on their skills to the next generation.


In today’s evolving job market, it’s important to future-proof your career as much as possible. The skilled trades are no exception. Whether you’re interested in higher wages, supervisory roles, or even teaching, pursuing college credits can significantly enhance your career prospects. At CompleteAdvising.com, we encourage students invest in your education so that you’ll be better equipped to thrive in the skilled trades and secure a bright and prosperous future.

2 thoughts on “Why A Skilled Trade Career Does Not = No College”

  1. Great work. After ending up with a huge student loan i shifted my thinking and was thinking i should have done it the other way. However, i didn’t think of the other issues

    1. Loans are no fun, but they are worth it if there is a return on investment. The average person with a bachelor’s earns $1.2M more during their career vs stopping their education in high school. That ROI is dependent on graduating on time and entering an in-demand career pathway, though. I love helping students find a balance between what they are good at/passionate about and lucrative careers that our communities really need!

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