Follow the Yellow Hard Hat Road

If you have kids in high school, you probably have college on the brain.

In fact, if we are being honest, you’re the only one thinking hardcore about their future, you’ve been doing it since they were little, you talk about it at the dinner table, and think about it at night when you can’t sleep. You know how fast life comes at you, and all you want is for them to be successful.

With the pressure that they feel in school and from EVERYONE asking them about college, it could seem like they have buried their head in the sand on the issue. But they’ve thought about it all right, and they may have even said they are not going to college.

Before you suit up for that battle again, consider that while society touts the virtues of the four-year degree, it may not be a suitable pathway for everybody.

And instead of reacting with doomsday images consider asking them why they don’t want to go to college. You may find that your kid is confused as to what’s out there, or unable to identify some work they would enjoy. Perhaps they are unsure about affordability or are too shy to talk about less traditional career paths such as a gap year for volunteer work, missionary service, military service, or simply entering the job market. Sometimes young people are looking at technical skills in manufacturing, engineering, robotics, or construction, yet there is not much information on those trades.

So, let’s take a step back.

While a four-year degree used to be the norm, it may not make sense for everybody. Especially considering the cost. The average student loan debt for the graduating class of 2017 was $39,400. And, research shows that 30 percent of high school graduates enrolled in a four-year college have not earned a degree by year six, and over 20 percent were no longer enrolled in year four.

For parents of a high-school student that doesn’t know what they want to do, statistics like these can send you running for the hills. But there are other ways to obtain formalized training. Trade schools and community colleges that offer technical training can provide a shorter pathway to the workforce without compromising the ability to earn a good salary. In fact, in 2016 the median pay for entry-level graduates entering the construction industry was $68,050 as compared to $48,270 for all graduates.

Although education is not required to enter some trades, it does give new workers leverage in scoring highly competitive and valuable apprenticeships that ensure several years of paid, on the job training. Additional pathways for upward mobility include taking business classes while learning a trade to get a better picture of the potential for opportunity in the industry and becoming a master in the trade or owning your own business.

It is unfortunate that many students and parents don’t know about education options other than four-year institutions, especially when so many workers and companies could benefit from the skills offered in vocational training. However, colleges rely on figures related to graduation rates and are less likely to tell you, and perhaps less likely to know, that 30 million U.S. jobs paying an average of $55,000 a year do not require a four-year degree.

A major case for exploring skilled trades with your kid is that while younger workers continue to pour into four-year colleges, high-paying jobs in the construction industry are going unfilled. As workers retire, there are fewer younger workers to replace them, further fueling the industry-wide shortages that are going to continue to get worse as baby boomers age out of the workforce.

The reality is that jobs in the construction industry as a viable pathway to a good career are not going anywhere. We will continue to need upgrades to infrastructure, there will always be demand for housing, and homes and businesses will always be in need of repair and maintenance.

The great news is that entering the construction industry does not mean working in the field forever. More and more companies are recognizing the severe shortage of workers as an opportunity to offer more competitive benefits packages, better technology and equipment, and ongoing training that will help workers move up and out of the field as they mature in the industry.

Skilled trades offer stable income, pathways of upward mobility, and a future that can include owning your own business – often in a much shorter time frame (and with less debt) than a traditional college.


Josh Munns
Joshua Munns grew up in the construction industry differently than most, his Mom, Mary Davis, started a window company as a single mom when he was just 4 years old in 1983. Having a mom who was starting a business in the construction industry at only 23 years old made for some very interesting days. Fast forward 24 years to 2007 I took over the family business just in time for the Recession which hit my business extremely hard. I spent the next 11 years rebuilding the business, rebuilding my workforce and completely reshaping the company. In 2018 I sold the business to focus my energy on my passion, building careers in construction. In 2018 I founded Ground Up Construct to help business owners and employees build careers together. The career does not exist with the employer and the employer does not exist without the career. When employees and employers work together the end result is amazing. By building a strong company culture, offering great benefits and career paths for my employees I was able to build the business back stronger than ever. I did it and I want to help other owners take that step to take their business to the next level. It is an amazing feeling and a great privilege to be able to provide people with great careers.

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