Could Parents be Misleading youth about skilled trades as a career option?

Our Youth has some AMAZING career options in the skilled trades. 

I’m excited about this post, and I hope to get a conversation going about a really important topic I feel very passionate about. 

So I have a big question to ask, is it possible that we’re misleading our youth concerning the options they have?

More specifically, what I’m talking about is the option to go to a four-year college vs. a skilled trade.

Before I get going on this subject, I want to say that I don’t have a problem with a four-year college. 

The point of this post is to highlight skilled trades, such as HVAC/R, as a viable career option for our youth as an alternative to a traditional four-year college. I hope to stimulate some thought within the parents of high school youth as the post-high school conversation starts happening. 

 I’m want to share a quote by a guy named Mike Rowe in a moment. That name may sound familiar to you if you like to watch the Dirty Jobs television series. Mike likes to highlight the dirty jobs that go into industries we take for granted. 

I remember seeing an episode about a pig farm. In the episode, Mike gets into the hard (and Dirty) jobs that raise the pig to bacon on the table. I find Mike’s viewpoints very similar to mine, and it highlights just how overlooked skilled trades are in America. When we walk into our local supermarket, many of us have a very limited understanding of what it takes to get all the amazing products into stores. Without the magic of refrigeration, many of the most common perishable products would spoil before being consumed. 

So the quote goes like this:

“I think a trillion dollars of student loans (actually over 1.5 trillion as of this post) and a massive skills gap are precisely what happens to a society that actively promotes one form of education as the best course for the most people. I think the stigmas and stereotypes that keep so many people from pursuing a truly useful skill begin with the mistaken belief that a four-year degree is somehow superior to all other forms of learning”. Mike Rowe.

I want to drill down on two things that Mike Rowe is talking about this in this quote.

First is the student debt.

As of this post, in August of 2021, the USA national school loan debt 1.5 trillion dollars. That’s a lot of money. 

According to The average federal student loan debt is $36,510 per borrower. Private student loan debt averages $54,921 per borrower. The average student borrows over $30,000 to pursue a bachelor’s degree. 45.3 million borrowers have student loan debt; 95% of them have federal loan debt. 

It has become commonplace in America for college students to be burdened with school loans for decades after graduation. 

This debit is also contributing to lower marriage rates in the USA. 

According to, in 2019, there were 16.3 new marriages for every 1,000 women age 15 and over in the United States, down from 17.6 in 2009. 

The second is the skills gap.

Homework project, the next time you’re driving around in your car, sitting at a stoplight, have a look around for one of those big box vans. These are the vans that have the signs and ladders strapped to the top. These vans are very popular used by HVAC/R, plumbers, and electricians. If you can pan over safely, have a look at who’s in that driver’s seat. Most likely, you will notice that the individual in that seat will be middle-aged or older. 

This simple homework project will highlight the skills gap Mike Rowe is referring to. There are not enough people going into skilled trades to service the ever-growing market’s needs.  

Speaking from the perspective of the HVAC/R industry, if you were to ask business owners from any major US market what is your biggest challenge the answer you would most likely get is finding people (technicians generally) to fill the job requirements.

The bottom line on the skills gap in the HVAC/R industry, there’s a huge demand for new technicians that need to be filled, and that demand is expected to accelerate. 

Because of labor shortages in all of the skills trades that have existed for over two decades, basic economics (demand vs. supply) have accelerated wages much faster than the cost of living. More than ever before, HVAC/R contractors need to start new technicians at higher wages and move them up quickly to retain them. 

Some HVAC/R contractors have needed to get creative to attract talent from competitors. Like what has gone on in pro sports for some time, contactors are paying signing bonuses of up to $5,000 for experienced HVAC/R techs willing to jump ship and come over and work for another shop. 

There are some other side effects of the skills gap that impacts everyone. 

The side effects of the skills gap include:

> Increase labor and material costs charged to end-user customers. 

> Delays in getting services to end-user customers. 

> Contractors are paying higher wages to technicians with less experience. This situation can slow down continued training investments by contractors. 

> Refrigeration equipment manufactures are experiencing the same challenges finding skilled technicians to support contractors and end-users of their products. In response, manufactures are accelerating the application of new technologies that is exacerbating the skills gap. 

 I started this post by talking about our youth. Let’s face it, not all of our youth getting ready to graduate from high school is destined for a four-year college experience. So what can parents do when their gut is telling them this?

I recommend having some exploratory conversations (highlighting the plural here 🙂 with your son or daughter about alternate options that include a skilled trade. 

> Ride alongs / Career days:  If you happen to have a family member or a friend that’s in skilled trade such as HVAC/R, Electrical, Plumbing, or General contracting, see if you can set up an (ideally) multi-day ride along. Encourage your son or daughter to ask their new mentor some open-ended questions that include:

>> Why did you choose this skilled trade versus going to college?

>> What are some things that you like about what you’re doing in the skills trade? 

>>And then on the flip side, what are the things that you would that you don’t like, or you would like to change if you could?

> Look at the numbers: At the bottom of this post, I will provide a link to the U.S. BUREAU OF LABOR STATISTICS (BLS) that has in-depth data on just about every occupation imaginable. This site is an excellent resource to study stats on any skilled trade your son or daughter may be interested in. 

 > Parents and youth do some research together: The next suggestion I would have is to research trade schools in your area. Find out what trade schools are in your area. Local trade unions sometimes have youth outreach programs that include low-cost, sometimes even free, skills training programs. Some local city colleges also offer skilled trade programs. 

Side note, when looking into trade schools, make sure to include post-graduate placement assistance in your research. 

As I mentioned at the opening of this post, let’s get a conversation going on this important subject. If you are reading this post on Linked in, consider commenting on this post. 

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To access BLS stats on HVAC/R:  CLICK HERE.