College v. Trade School: Considering Manufacturing as a Career Path

Following High School graduation, students are faced with the big question of what they are going to do with their lives. At this age, some know, and others are left in an abyss of confusion. High schools will often promote college to students, but that is not their only option. A career in manufacturing is an option full of potential. Opting for manufacturing trade school instead of college can lead to a stable career in manufacturing.

Navigating a Skills Gap


The manufacturing industry needs experts in the field. Manufacturers have found themselves affected by what is called the “silver tsunami”. This is created by the vast number of baby boomers in the workforce who are nearing retirement. As a result, the manufacturing workforce is facing a major skills gap. Because of this, the constantly growing manufacturing industry is eager to find young workers with skills that can be mastered in trade school.

Manufacturing is a stable industry and there will always be a need for skilled workers within that industry. During the COVID pandemic, for example, the manufacturing industry was one of few areas that was able to see continued growth. It is crucial to an economy.

In the past, manufacturing had the reputation of a “dirty” and tough working environment. This often kept women from considering manufacturing work. But with the growth of AI and automation, perceptions have changed, and the manufacturing industry has become a much more technical and clean working environment.


Benefits to Trade School


One of the best ways to follow a manufacturing career  way is to start in trade school. There are many benefits to trade school. Trade school is a great option to guide a person into their future, a fact that many high school students aren’t aware of. It allows students to jump into their respective careers much sooner than a college degree would allow. Most trade or vocational degrees take anywhere from a few months, up to two years, which is significantly less time than a typical four-year college degree.

Another benefit to trade school is cost. Trade school averages about $30,000 total, which is a much lower cost commitment when compared with traditional college degree programs. Salaries for manufacturing start at around $40,000 and have room to increase drastically as one moves up the ladder in the industry.

In terms of learning experience, trade programs give students a much more individualized and specific learning experience. This ensures that a potential hire is an expert in their respective manufacturing field.


Benefits of a Manufacturing Career Path

There are many positives to following a trade school path into a manufacturing career. Manufacturing is needed all over the country and throughout the world. A benefit for manufacturing is the versatility in where work is available and also what jobs are available. Being able to continue a career without interruption is important.

There is also strong job security in the manufacturing industry. Because young experts in the field are somewhat rare, mastering an area in manufacturing can ensure strong job security. In addition to job security, there is a lot of room for growth, which means increased salaries. As previously mentioned, baby boomers are retiring which means leadership positions are becoming available. For those who are driven and willing to work hard, the opportunities for growth are great.


Potential Challenges of a Trade School Education


While there are many benefits to choosing a trade school path, there are some drawbacks as well. Starting salaries in both trade school educated, and 

college educated candidates typically don’t show a huge difference. However, as careers progress, statistics show that the higher the education a person has, the higher the salary will typically be. It isn’t a reason to opt against trade school and specifically, a path in manufacturing. As previously mentioned, the manufacturing industry is full of potential and there are plenty of people on this path exceeding the salaries of college graduates.

Another potential challenge is the lack of a well-rounded education in trade school. When students choose trade school their field of study is usually a narrow one. This isn’t a negative on its own. However, upon completion of the chosen trade school, that candidate is limited to a career in manufacturing. Lacking the general education portion may benefit the ability to focus on a specific future job but inhibits the ability to move to a different industry if one wanted to.


When is College the Right Path?

College is a popular education path for many high school graduates. Colleges give students more versatility in what can be studied. While a major does have to be chosen as a main course of studies, many other areas are covered in a college curriculum. Because of this, more range is given in potential job markets. Many people don’t end up in careers that align with their college degrees. This offers some room for uncertainty. It is rare for an 18-20-year-old to know what they want to do with the rest of their life and college offers some room for exploration. College also offers the opportunity to continue further education post graduation, which can increase one’s salary dramatically. Not only does graduate school potentially increase one’s salary, college graduates typically earn higher salaries when comparing to trade school.


Drawbacks to the College Path


With that being said, college does have its drawbacks. Going to college is a four-year commitment, which to some may be a drawback because it prevents them from getting into the workforce right away.

Not only is it a long commitment, but it is an expensive one. College degrees cost an average of $127,000 and have the potential to cost even more depending upon the chosen school and degree program. The high prices that go along with college can lead to a significant amount of debt upon completion. This is the last thing a graduate needs as they begin an entry level job. Debt can be a huge set back for many college graduates.

College is also extremely competitive. Many schools get thousands of applicants and only accept a small portion of them. This can make the application process challenging from the onset. It also means the fields of study can be rigorous as well.


Choosing the Best Option

When it comes to choosing an education, there isn’t a right or wrong answer. Trade school isn’t the answer for everyone, and neither is a college education. One must evaluate life goals and make the decision that is the best fit. Manufacturing is, in many instances, not the first choice for a career path. The most important thing is that candidates are given information about all the options available to them as they begin their journey towards completing an education and choosing a career path. By educating students about a manufacturing career, it allows them to make the right choice to maximize their full potential. To continue to feed the manufacturing workforce, it is critical that the right people are able to choose a career path that is their best choice for a future career.


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