Is an apprenticeship better than a degree?

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Growing up is hard. Remember being 18 and struggling to deal with university applications, course selections, and oh yeah, borrowing $10,000 in student loan money?  Yeah, it sucks – so why make it harder?  It’s conventional wisdom that smart kids need to go to college to get the good jobs.  And sure, it’s supported by data which suggests that college educated kids make more money.  But also supported is the notion that kids are not getting their money’s worth after a college degree.  Like clockwork, articles appear every few years about the eroding value of college degrees.

Photo Credit: Spierzchala via Flickr

Photo Credit: Spierzchala via Flickr

University is not for everyone.  After 4 years of classwork, assignments, and ill-fated parties, you’re not guaranteed to find a job when you graduate. And as more and more young adults chase the college dream, regardless of finances, more and more will find themselves graduating with crippling student loan debt.  Sites such as Payday Angels can provide some advice for loans and financial management, but when faced with car payments, rent costs, grocery bills and utilities, even the best of us will begin to question our career choices.

But what if you’d made a different choice?  There are many options for bright, ambitious young adults – university being just one of them.  One avenue, which many overlook, is the field of skilled trades.

Learning a skilled trade is not often touted as a career move for academically inclined students, but for a financially savvy young adult, there are many advantages.  Technical programs are often shorter than university programs.  If you need to borrow money for school, a shorter program means less debt!  And on the flip side, many skilled trades offer apprenticeships, allowing you to actually earn money while learning.

Entering the workforce debt free provides more opportunities for a young adult to start life off on the right financial foot. By being debt free, you are in a better position to save and invest for your future.  And if you do decide to take on a loan from a company like PayDay UK , you’ll be in a better position to pay it off when you don’t have tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt looming over your shoulders.

Do you value your college degree or do you wish you had learned a skilled trade instead? If you’re a tradesperson, would you have done anything differently?

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17 Comments

  1. I think this article does make some good points. There are way, way too many people out there who are pursuing university degrees just because they think it’s what they “should” do. Just having a degree does not mean opportunity opens up, especially if you get a piece of paper that has little to do with your passions. Sadly that’s the case with most people.

    Learning a real skill through a trade is just such a flexible thing to have. It opens up a lot of opportunities to develop in a variety of job sectors. I have a couple friends who have become electricians and it got their foot in the door for other careers simply because the skill was such a huge asset that virtually none coming out of university possess.

    So there are lots of advantages out there and that’s before even considering the massive debt that most US students come out of school with. I’m not American but I did live in the US for a while working with students and I was constantly floored by the amount of debt these poor souls were taking on.

    • CF says:

      You make some good points! Real hands-on skills are very transferable, no matter where you live.

      I’m not American either but even my student loan (currently at $25,000) is a giant pain. I couldn’t imagine having 2 or 3 times that amount.

  2. This reflects the blue collar vs white collar jobs. There’s been a lot of articles lately about how a blue collar job can often pay the same or more than a white collar job for someone that’s coming out of college with a four year education. The sad part is that many people with a four year college degree end up working blue collar jobs out of necessity as they can’t find jobs they were trained for in college.

    • Agreed. Especially in today’s employment climate. While things are getting better, college grads coming out with oodles of debt and not finding any jobs is a major problem. Skilled trades may be a better path for some people. Heck, maybe even a lot of people. But I’d still like to see our workforce becoming more competitive in fields like technology and science. Practicality aside.

    • CF says:

      And often, even if the pay range is not quite the same, it’s often made up in terms of shorter schooling and smaller tuition costs.

      I have a friend who finished a year of technical schooling and got a job in the industry as an animator making $45k. Not bad for someone who’s 20 years old! He’s bright and motivated – and he is making money at the age of 20 instead of 4 years later with even more debt.

  3. If you know what you want to get into then learning a trade will most likely pay off in the end. Too many people jump into college with no path and then get in debt and find out they enjoy a skill trade. Could have saved thousands.

  4. Pauline says:

    I think for a majority of people, learning a skill is much better than going to college. I have a master in business but rarely use my skills. In high school we were all pushed towards college like there were no other options. Between the drop outs and the useless degrees many are better off starting working right out of high school than getting debt for a degree they’ll still be paying for in 10 years.

    • CF says:

      I know!!! No one ever said to me, “Why don’t you try this technical field?” It was always, “Oh, you got good grades, here, go do science at university for 4-5 years.”

  5. Like University, trade school isn’t just for anyone. Trade skills you can take with you all over especially a Red Seal in Canada. More women are also being encouraged to join the trades. I’m working on a post for Canadian Trades now and many young and older adults in second careers like a mate of mine and those who have been laid off from jobs are jumping into the trades due to projected shortages. In Canada the government motivates people by practically paying for your education by getting a trade but of course you must succeed. I think it all boils down to choice and the path you want to take in life.

  6. eemusings says:

    My partner used to work in trades (though never got qualified) – and is now trying to work out next steps. Trades seem to be something you need to commit to early; it’s harder to get into later on.

  7. I think it depends on the person, but would agree that a college degree isn’t the right choice for all people. My uncle hated school so when he finished HS he started learning how to paint cars (custom paint jobs etc.). My dad went to college to be a journalist. Guess who makes more money? Yup, my uncle. He’s incredibly successful and “only” has a HS diploma.

  8. In the legal sector in the UK, it used to be that as many lawyers became lawyers via apprenticeship without degree than the other way round. This all changed but now many firms are reluctant to spend money on trainees who may have learnt the law at University and Law School but have no experience. On the job training is crucial, even in professional practice.

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