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July 7, 2024 2:01 AM   Subscribe

Czumak-Abreu’s path is one that more young Americans are considering. Skepticism about the cost and value of four-year degrees is growing, and enrollment in vocational programs has risen as young people pursue well-paying jobs that don’t require desks or so much debt, and come with the potential to be your own boss. The number of students enrolled in vocational-focused community colleges rose 16% last year to its highest level since the National Student Clearinghouse began tracking such data in 2018. from Gen Z Plumbers and Construction Workers Are Making #BlueCollar Cool [WSJ]
posted by chavenet (23 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
ChatGPT or remote overseas workers can’t run low voltage electrical or hang a door in your house (yet).
posted by neuracnu at 2:35 AM on July 7 [10 favorites]

an electrician...sparked their interest in trade work
posted by HearHere at 3:09 AM on July 7 [6 favorites]

Blue collar was always cool in my neck of the woods.
posted by Czjewel at 3:40 AM on July 7 [5 favorites]

In this particular article, I'm noticing two trends: young people whose families are pre-established in these trades, and young people who have made absurd amounts of money posting videos of themselves plying their trades online. This is interesting, I suppose, but probably not stuff that's very helpful to most people reading it.

Also noted in the article: these are physical jobs where you can fuck up your body. I'm not saying that should discourage anyone from work in the trades, but it is worth noting that if you train to do a job and then you can't do it for a year or more, you'll need to do something else. Your certificate will likely be less versatile than a degree.

Also not noted: a four-year degree is versatile. Is it expensive? Yes; I attended a not terribly prestigious university twenty years ago, and I am still paying for it. But every job I have had since was a job I could not have gotten without my degree. Where I work right now, I could work without one, but only in a position that pays less.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:06 AM on July 7 [22 favorites]

It's been my opinion for a while now that "Electrician" in the US can be a springboard for a whole host of other careers - if you get in with good solid training and gain a good understanding of the complexity of systems management there are a lot of open doors - including Engineering degree programs in higher ed.

Also very few thing will pay as handsomely and are better than working HVAC
posted by djseafood at 6:49 AM on July 7 [7 favorites]

The job field called "Electrician" has become an extremely broad category. My adult nephew (35) is an electrician, and the job he does is extremely unlikely to mess up his body (perhaps slightly more likely than a typical office job). The guy didn't want to go to college and he set out to work a trade. He lives near Orlando (he grew up there) and does work almost exclusively for Disney in one way or another, though he is not employed by Disney. He's not super wealthy, but he makes a very good amount of money and bought his own home around age 28.

Oh, and he made sure that the type of electrician jobs he does are inside, air conditioned, and not outside in the stultifying heat and humidity of central Florida.
posted by SoberHighland at 8:20 AM on July 7 [6 favorites]

My father did a four-year degree and then trained to be an electrician. Fifteen years on construction-adjacent work did fuck up his body, and luckily he found the the four-year degree opened the door for him for a good desk job at the local utility. Which I guess is to say, these jobs can be great and can support a family, but there's also a reason he made sure each of his kids had a degree to fall back on.
posted by nangua at 9:12 AM on July 7 [5 favorites]

Same as in film—below-the-line union jobs are better than wasting years in film school.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:23 AM on July 7 [2 favorites]

I founded an organization (NextChapterTrade) to support kids aging out of the system or recovering from online identity exploitation (vloggers, influencers etc) and I'm looking for more corporations to support the efforts by providing internships. I looked up one day and realize that I didn't know how to DO anything (except corporate alignment...the Girl Scouts taught me that as an adult) and it scared me.

We need plumbers.
posted by lextex at 9:34 AM on July 7 [3 favorites]

It s almost as if we have a union movement again, gee whiz
posted by eustatic at 9:35 AM on July 7 [5 favorites]

In Seattle, there is a legendary plumber named Zan who for decades ran a short ad in the alternative paper that just read 'RAD DYKE PLUMBER ZAN' with a phone number, so a lot of us in the Puget Sound area don't need the Wall Street Journal to dictate that plumbing is now cool. Zan has been out there being a political activist plumber since the 80s. I actually might make a FPP about her, there are a few archived articles that are really interesting 30 years later.
posted by lizard music at 10:50 AM on July 7 [28 favorites]

Please do lizard music!
posted by clew at 10:58 AM on July 7 [4 favorites]

my BIL is a union electrician in NJ and makes more money than my PhD having university lab monkey husband. I'm not sure if he is wreaking his body or not.
posted by supermedusa at 11:08 AM on July 7 [3 favorites]

I am suspicious about the various trend pieces, memes and YT videos hyping the trades. Republicans have noticed that the more educated people are, the less likely they are to vote R. Hmm. As someone who has worked a number of trade and trade adjacent jobs and hangs out on various trade forums- there are a LOT of MAGAhat types and the baseline level of misogyny, homophobia and racism in the workplace would make the heads of a typical MeFite explode. Maybe an influx of young people will help move the needle on that, but it is SO, SO baked in.
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 3:36 PM on July 7 [4 favorites]

Darnell Epps attended Yale Law School and Lincoln Technical Institute at the same time, and wrote about it for the Washington Post last month (archived copy): On my very first day, I faced a sobering reality: There was just one other student in my machining class. By comparison, I had more than 50 peers in my Yale Law torts class. My graduating class at Yale seemed poised to produce dozens of “Big Law” attorneys, while Lincoln Tech would graduate just two machinists. I was stunned. Although I love the law, both as a profession and as a tool for social change, I also know that lawyers are better at billing clients than building and maintaining our nation’s critical infrastructure.
posted by Iris Gambol at 5:00 PM on July 7 [2 favorites]

How Gen Z Is Becoming the Toolbelt Generation - "More young workers are going into trades as disenchantment with the college track continues, and rising pay and new technologies shine up plumbing and electrical jobs." (npr)
posted by kliuless at 10:20 PM on July 7

I also want to know more about Rad Dyke Plumber Zan
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 12:51 AM on July 8 [3 favorites]

I know there is encouragement to get the youth into the trades up here in Ontario, but the only problem is if you're not white or male, the trades aren't exactly friendly. I hope that the old school blue collar workers can make room in their workforce and hearts for folks who don't look like them.
posted by Kitteh at 7:20 AM on July 8 [2 favorites]

Whenever “pursue a trade” comes up as a response to concerns about the cost and uncertain payoff of 4-year degrees, I always think - wait, isn’t trade education full of scams, too?

Lincoln Tech would graduate just two machinists

Lincoln Tech? ”In 2022, Lincoln Educational Services was one of 153 institutions included in student loan cancellation due to alleged fraud” Lincoln Tech? My understanding is that these kinds of for-profit schools are responsible for the worst of the student debt crisis, in terms of students ending up most insurmountably in arrears.

Do I still have the right Lincoln Tech, here? Even now I’m pretty sure that’s worse than regional state university prices, per credit, and you get… a certificate at the end?

Of course, that’s not the only way to do it, and I’m not even unsympathetic to the sentiment that maybe a four year degree shouldn’t be the default for every kid coming out of high school not knowing what they want to do, but it seems like the trades present many of the same pitfalls for kids who go in without a realistic plan, without connections, without understanding how the training path and the job market actually work.
posted by atoxyl at 9:39 AM on July 8 [5 favorites]

I personally salute the blue collar workers who are making youtube videos, they are useful, many of them are exceptional video teachers (compare to guitar teachers -awful on average, and often more pompous than helpful), and they are generally relatively straightforward (compared to recipe bloggers).

It kinda sucks that they bury the story of them working 7 days a week, making far more money than the actual trade job, and the article sensationalizes it in the way that article writers love to do so, as if Taylor Swift being a billionaire means more people should become pop stars...whatever. Good for them. Hope they create something that can be helpful and sustainable and make some money in the process.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:57 PM on July 8

wait, isn’t trade education full of scams

Probably, but it can be avoided. In the US, many states run vocational training out of the community college system. My kid is in one and it seems to be going well. Some unions also run training programs; I know the IBEW used to around here, but I'm not sure that's still the case. I think the limiting factor for many is "how do I pay the bills while I go through this training". I've even seen a couple of big contracting firms offer training programs, but I don't know what the terms of that particular brand of indentured servitude are.

Just be sure to avoid jobs that AI/ML are going to eliminate.
posted by kjs3 at 7:54 AM on July 10

I know the IBEW used to around here, but I'm not sure that's still the case

I have heard that apprenticeship through the IBEW is one of the best options to get into that line of work, but they only have so many slots available in a given year so in some places the acceptance rate is pretty low.
posted by atoxyl at 9:15 AM on July 11 [1 favorite]

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