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More Gen Z are choosing trade schools over college to become welders and carpenters because ‘it’s a straight path to a six-figure job’

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Gen Z has a bad reputation for being work-shy. But new research shows that couldn’t be further from the truth—the youth of today just don’t want a desk job.

That’s because the youngest generation of workers is shunning college (and with it, the prospect of a corporate career) to take up traditional trades like welding, plumbing, and carpentry. 

Enrollment in vocational-focused community colleges rose 16% last year to its highest level since the National Student Clearinghouse began tracking such data in 2018. 

What’s more, the same data shows a 23% surge in students studying construction trades in 2023 compared to the year before and a 7% increase in HVAC and vehicle maintenance and repair programs.

Why the shift? “People are starting to pay attention,” Mike Rowe the CEO of MikeRoweWorks Foundation, a charity that challenges stigma and stereotypes against no-degree jobs, told Fox Business.

“Parents are kids alike are starting to get the message that trade school is an amazing opportunity with just a fraction of the debt—if any at all—and a clear path to something that looks a lot like prosperity.”

Students were ‘sold a lie’

With college setting students back an average of $36,436 per year, young people today are questioning the return on investment they’ll get on the qualification.

“People are starting to smell a rat,” Rowe quipped, adding that blue-collar jobs “are a straight path to a six-figure job” without the burden of debt.  

If you want proof, look no further than the fastest-growing job in the U.S. right now—wind turbine service technician—which pays up to $103,000 a year and doesn’t require a college degree.

What’s more, the median pay for new construction hires was $48,089 last year, compared to $39,520 for professional services new hires, according to data from payroll services provider ADP.

“Gen Z is just starting to realize they’ve been pushed in a direction that frankly doesn’t lead to a place they want to go,” Rowe said.

It’s no wonder that trust in universities has sunk to an all-time low. Meanwhile, millennials (who are the most educated generation in history) feel like they’ve been “sold a lie” and 24% of Americans with student loan debt say it’s their biggest financial regret.

“What’s sh-tty is, we’re holding up our end of the deal,” 27-year-old Robbie Scott cried in a viral TikTok video that struck a chord with many young people. “We’re staying in school. We’re going to college. We’ve been working since we were 15, 16 years old…doing everything that y’all told us to do so that we can what? Still be living in our parents’ homes in our late twenties?”

So it’s hardly surprising that Gen Z feels disenfranchised with the American dream of working hard at a soulless desk for the next 50-plus years, after wasting their youth studying for what seems like little gain.

But if you want to earn top dollar then college is still a safe bet

Still, although it may be tempting to “work hard, play hard” straight out of high school, reams of research show that those who want to earn the big bucks need a ritzy college degree.

Ladders, the career site for six-figure jobs, analyzed the top-paid positions posted on its platform and found that the majority require an advanced degree.

But don’t be fooled into thinking all degrees are created equally: Although it costs the same to study psychology and liberal arts as it does computer science, some college majors are more likely to result in a lucrative salary than others.  

The New York Fed studied the labor market outcomes of college graduates depending on their major and computer engineering grads came out on top. Ladders’ data highlighted that those earning over the $200,000 benchmark studied medicine. Meanwhile, accountancy jobs are also hot right now—but most openings require a bachelor’s degree.

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