Not so long ago, the brightest kids in every class announced their plans to attend medical school or law school with great pride. Their parents announced each college or professional school acceptance with joy in the reflected glory of their offspring. Each lawyer or doctor could look forward to upscale living, country club memberships, and a secure financial future for the course of their lives.
How fast the future has brought major change. Four years of college may cost $250,000 and three years of law or medical school may add another $200,000 to a student loan debt that may approach a half million dollars before the graduate has earned their first dollar. Meanwhile, seven years of earnings have yielded a net loss. Burdened by massive student debt the new lawyers and doctors enter the labor market that isn’t a certainty as it was just a few years ago. The United States has more lawyers per capita than any country in the world, and the demand for new lawyers is lessening. Therefore, there is less money to pay massive student loans that will sap income for decades to come. Medicine, once the most certain of professions, is under the microscope of Americans who can no longer afford the insurance that generates such huge incomes. Proposals to cap payments to medical providers, and other cost saving measures threaten the incomes of people just beginning their earning years at 30.
Beyond doctors and lawyers, desirable careers included any that required suits for men, dresses for women and did not involve manual labor. Financial analysts, banking, management, corporate leadership all were desirable. However, a world economy meant that the decisions involving jobs for many fields are made from a great distance. Suddenly the management of corporation X decides to outsource its planning (fill in the name) department and lay off the sudden surplus of workers. In an environment where many corporations are streamlining personal productivity, it may well be irrelevant to an individual’s future.
For many years the craft trades were considered less desirable careers. Working with your hands was considered suitable only for people who couldn’t be white collar workers. The carpenter who installed the new door or built a shed, the plumber who installed the water heater, and the electrician who installed the circuit for the new dryer were lesser members of society.
It’s time for another look – training programs offer interested students from high school the access to paid apprenticeships and regular salaries upon high school or community college graduation. The absence of student debt means a faster start on building a financially sound life. Available training and testing allow for the advancement to journeyman and master level skills with accompanying increases in salary and benefits. Decisions affecting jobs are local and far more dependent on conditions that can be seen and assessed. Skills are not specific to a corporation, and testing demonstrates the details of skills offered. Direct control over your life is a great benefit. Opportunities for self-employment offer even greater self-determination.
The future is bright for a new world where a “crumbling infrastructure” requires construction work in the hundreds of billions of dollars in the foreseeable future – where sustainable construction will become the order of the day and lead to much new construction, where the need for skilled, dedicated workers is greater than the supply. The smart parent will brag that their son or daughter has been accepted to an apprenticeship in heating, plumbing, or carpentry.