Higher education has transitioned from a luxury to a necessity in the past fifty years in America. Along with this cultural shift, the cost of most colleges, both public and private, have skyrocketed. This leaves young Americans stuck between a rock and a hard place. Do you forgo college and try to make it with a high school diploma or equivalent, or do you put yourself in an extraordinary amount of debt to try to make it in the increasingly competitive white collar job market? Many people fail to consider the third option: going to trade school and learning a craft. Now is a particularly good time to look in to trade school because America is currently facing a skilled labor shortage, so going into a trade is more likely to ensure job stability.

The phrase skilled labor refers to any work that can only be done with individuals with specialized training. These laborers have developed specialized know-how, training, and experience to carry out more complex physical, or mental tasks than routine job functions. Skilled labor is generally characterized by higher education, expertise levels attained through training and experience, and will likewise correspond with higher wages. Skilled labor jobs are more secure, not only because America is currently in a skilled labor shortage, but these jobs cannot be outsourced. Another major benefit of learning a trade is the ability to leave your work at work. If you work as a welder for example, you won’t have to answer any pesky work emails by the time you come home. Many tradespeople also report a high percentage of job satisfaction for the simple fact that they are creating or fixing something with their own two hands and their wits.

There are many benefits to going to a trade school or technical college over going to a traditional university. For one, most of these programs and institutions are substantially more affordable than a four-year college. Many trade programs also take about the same amount of time or less than a bachelor’s degree, and for most of these programs, you are able to get paid for the work you do while you’re still learning. Another benefit of becoming a skilled laborer is it allows you to move anywhere in the country and find work, as almost any place needs some form of skilled labor. A skilled tradesperson is someone who likes to think outside of the box, someone who enjoys a hard day’s work, and someone who enjoys verity in their day to day work. If this sounds like you, you would be perfect for joining a trade.

Welding is a great career path for someone interested in working with their hands. The median annual salary for a welder as of 2019 is $42,490, but if you specialize in certain kinds of welding, you can make up to $150,000 a year. A welding certification will run you about $450, and while they are encouraged, the are not mandatory in order for you to find a job in the field. You can also do a three-year apprenticeship, and get paid while you learn. Welding as a career also allows for personal and professional development. After you finish your basic education for welding, you can either stay at that level and make a decent annual salary, or if you’re interested in continuing your education, you can specialize and become more valuable to your employer. Some of these specializations include; robotic welding, welding quality control, and even fatigue and fracture analysis.

If welding isn’t your thing, perhaps look into becoming a Millwright, also called an industrial machine mechanic. Millwrights assemble, install, repair, and dismantle heavy machinery across many different industries. They need to be highly-skilled and incredibly precise while following detailed technical plans. Millwrights often operate large trucks and cranes to carry out their duties. Median salary for a Millwright is about 52,850 a year, which is nothing to sneeze at. Becoming a Millwright also requires about 3-4 years of schooling, but it’s all worth it for the high pay and job security. Industrial machine mechanics get to spend their days on their feet, solving complex problems, providing a physically and mentally stimulating work environment.

Joining a trade comes with it’s commitment and investing time, energy, and money. But after the initial education, you can receive huge returns on your investments. These returns are even greater if you specialize. Skilled labor is an important part of the American economy, and with the current shortage in skilled laborers, you can count on having a secure and lucrative career.