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Five Reasons to Pursue a Career in the Construction Trades

Throughout high school, parents, guardians and teachers help and advise students on how to navigate and plan for life after graduation.

While the advice is well-intentioned, there’s often two key pieces of information that have changed – the perceived advantages of college and Minnesota’s job market.

Reason 1: A College Degree Doesn’t Guarantee a Job

“There’s a myth that if you’ve earned your college degree, you will automatically have a job waiting for you,” said Sarah Lechowich, senior director for the Construction Careers Foundation.

The fact is approximately 53 percent of college graduates are unemployed or working in a job that doesn’t require a bachelor’s degree, according to a 2019 national study by University Washington. In addition, it takes the average college graduate three to six months, according to the university study, to secure employment after graduation, not to mention the compounding student debt that starts the moment a loan is taken out.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the job placement outlook for all high school and college graduates,” Lechowich said. “It’s time young people looked outside the white-collar box when it comes to landing steady, good paying jobs. Blue collar jobs such as a career in construction are in fact what some young adults can aspire to as a measure of a successful career.”

Reason 2: Registered Apprenticeships are Less Expensive and Shorter

While there are many positives to going to a university for a bachelor’s degree, there are also a few big drawbacks, including cost.

About two-thirds of students with bachelor’s degrees are leaving college with debt that averages $30,000 per student, according to the Institute for College Access and Success.

“With interest, that’ll make for at least a $300 monthly payment for a decade,” Lechowich said.

Since 2018, research from the New America Foundation shows the median debt for graduate students is $57,600, with one in four borrowers owing about $100,000 or more.

Meanwhile, one of the best benefits to working in the skilled trades is that the vast majority of training a student can obtain either through a registered apprenticeship or community and technical college training programs. In both cases, programs last from 6 months to 5 years, and students may only pay for books and tools each year.

The result: college students will likely spend an extra 2-3 years in school, paying tens of thousands per year, while the tradesperson is already graduated and earning money while they learn.

High school juniors and seniors from the Twin Cities spend a day touring construction unions and training centers.(Photo Credit: Emily Sweeney)

Reason 3: Trades Jobs Are Well-Paying

Another concern expressed by young people is how construction trades careers financially compare to jobs where a college degree is required.

On average, paychecks for those who work in the construction trades are either at or above other careers.

In Minnesota, the starting wage range for the skilled trades (per hour) was $15-$34 with a median of ~$21/hour. For all other occupations, such as paid internships for students attending college or jobs available to recent college graduates the range was $10-$38 and a median of ~$16/hour.

Here’s a list of starting salaries of the largest skilled trades careers and how they match up against the average starting salary for college grads of $43,867.

  • Starting Pipefitter: $40,000
  • Carpenter: $52,000
  • Sheet Metal worker: $40,000
  • Heavy Equipment Operator: $47,000
  • Electrician: $52,000

***Remember, these numbers represent starting salaries. Tradespeople also receive benefits like a pension and healthcare. With additional experience and certificates, you’ll see wages that are much higher than college graduates.

Reason 4: Job and Financial Security

“In our current economy, complete job security just doesn’t exist,” Lechowich said. “But some jobs are a lot more secure than others, especially in the construction industry where work cannot be outsourced.”

Minnesota, and the rest of the nation, will always need mechanics, electricians, plumbers, welders, etc. The roads and bridges and structures in this country will always be built here, so while jobs in other service sectors can be shipped away, the careers that require literal hands-on work cannot be.

“Students considering a career in construction should remember that construction is more than just a well-paying job,” Lechowich said. “Construction careers let you learn skills to apply for a lifetime and from day one of your apprenticeship you are eligible for benefits such as a pension, health and dental insurance.”

Reason 5: Pride in Your Work 

“We’re constantly reaching out to construction professionals in the field to learn about their experiences and make that information available to young people through the Constructioncareers.org website,” Lechowich said. “Everyone we have talked to expresses great pride in their work, especially because they can literally point to a building, a bridge or road and say, ‘I had a hand in building that.’”

Educators and students should resource Constructioncareers.org to view video interviews of real Minnesota construction workers and learn about 30 different careers in construction. Check out the Careers page to read about each careers’ wages, apprenticeship offerings, key skills and benefits.