We’ve all heard the same advice: get good grades in high school and get a bachelor’s degree. A bachelor’s degree has become so common that a lot of people have entered graduate school to get a master’s or a PhD.

That push has led to a shortage of tradespeople, especially as those in jobs usually described as “blue collar work” grow older. So what do we do now? Some states have started to push more money to promote vocational education.

PBS NewsHour reported that California is one of those states:

Now California is spending $6 million on a campaign to revive the reputation of vocational education, and $200 million to improve the delivery of it.

“It’s a cultural rebuild,” said Randy Emery, a welding instructor at the College of the Sequoias in California’s Central Valley.

Standing in a cavernous teaching lab full of industrial equipment on the college’s Tulare campus, Emery said the decades-long national push for high school graduates to get bachelor’s degrees left vocational programs with an image problem, and the nation’s factories with far fewer skilled workers than needed.

“I’m a survivor of that teardown mode of the ’70s and ’80s, that college-for-all thing,” he said.

Research has shown that parents and high school students don’t understand the value in these jobs that range from welding to nursing:

The United States has 30 million jobs that pay an average of $55,000 per year and don’t require a bachelor’s degree, according to the Georgetown center. People with career and technical educations are actually slightly more likely to be employed than their counterparts with academic credentials, the U.S. Department of Education reports, and significantly more likely to be working in their fields of study.

PBS interviewed Fernando Esparza, a mechanic for Evolution Fresh, as he takes “a class in industrial computing taught by a community college at a local manufacturing plant in the hope it will bump up his wages.” That plant is California Steel Industries, where “some supervisors without college degrees make as much as $120,000 a year.” The company said that electricians can make money into the six figures as well.

California Steel Industries has also chipped into the schools and state as a way to find workers due to the shortage:

With state budgets in constant flux, colleges and experts say it’s essential that companies help pay for educational programs that directly benefit them. While that kind of cooperation has been rare, Chaffey College’s InTech Center is an example of how it could work.

California Steel chipped in $2 million for the education center, which it leases to Chaffey for $5 per year, said Sandra Sisco, the school’s director of economic development. Other local companies and colleges have invested, too. The center served about 1,300 students in the past year and plans to grow, she said.

The steel company agreed to work with Chaffey mostly because it was having trouble finding enough trained workers, said Rod Hoover, its human resources manager. And if California Steel’s competitors benefit from the classes on the factory campus, many of which provide skills useful in steelmaking, so be it.

But Mike Rowe, host of Dirty Jobs, has been bringing attention to this for YEARS. In May, he hosted a video that asked why do we only glamorize expensive colleges:

“I can think of nine magazines off the top of my head who every year will rank the top colleges. None of them ever include a trade school. That’s where the pressure starts,” said Mike Rowe, unofficial spokesman for skilled work and trade jobs.

In March, Rowe spoke about a scholarship he gives out every year for those who want to learn a trade. He told Fox News:

“Every year, we do a work ethic scholarship,” explained the 55-year-old on “Fox & Friends” Tuesday. “It’s not huge, but we set aside five or six hundred grand and we put it in a pile and we invite people who want to learn a skill that’s actually in demand to make a case for themselves [such as] an essay, video, references.”

Each applicant must sign the S.W.E.A.T. (Skill & Work Ethic Aren’t Taboo) pledge, which means the person cannot “become a lazy, self-entitled drone who blames others for their troubles and expects to be taken care of.”

Rowe reminds people that these jobs are already available:

“If you want to weld, you’re going to work,” he explained. “We’ve trained a lot of kids, many of whom are making north of six figures. Carpentry, the construction trades — they’re all in demand right now… if you can really operate a welding torch, and you’re willing to travel, you’re going to kill it.”

Rowe acknowledged these jobs may not be someone’s “dream job,” but they should still attempt the work because who knows? Maybe it’ll be a fit. If anything, at least a new skill can be learned:

“If your whole model for job satisfaction is based on finding your ‘dream job,’ right – it’s a bit like going out in the world and looking for your soul mate,” he said. “It’s difficult. Find the thing that’s available, be great at it and then figure out how to love it […] You have to work. You have to own it.”


Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.