Vocational and technical degrees defy recession
The economy may be slumping, but some growing and
often-overlooked fields are clamoring for workers.
And you won't need a bachelor's degree to apply.
What you will need is some specific career and technical
Jobs for workers with vocational technical degrees
and certificates grew by 6 percent from January 2001 to January
2002, according to the Employment Policy Foundation.
More than 419,000 Americans with vocational technical degrees
landed new jobs during the year -- no mean feat during a recession.
"The continued strong growth of employment opportunities
for people with vocational degrees and certification, even in the
face of a recessionary economy, is truly remarkable," says
Ron Bird, chief economist at the Employment Policy Foundation.
Despite layoffs in so many other fields, the demand
for building construction, electrical and technical workers, skilled
craftspeople, welders, machinists and auto technicians remains strong.
Just look at the auto service industry. The days of
the grease monkey are long over. Today's cars come with more than
a dozen computer systems, and an auto technician must be able to
assess and analyze every one of them. Many auto technicians wear
"Most of the work done today is done with electronics
and diagnostics," says Don Gray, president of Automotive Youth
Educational Systems, a group that matches dealers with high school
students eager for training.
Simply put, there are more skilled technical positions
than workers to fill them. To top it off, many of the more experienced
technical workers are reaching retirement age.
The average age of a skilled tradesperson is 48. The
average age of a supervisor is 51.
Out with the old, in with
"A lot of jobs are simply due to people retiring,"
says Kurt Morauer, director for training program development at
the National Center for Construction Education and Research in Gainesville,
Many master craftspeople update and broaden their
skills over the course of their careers. Replacing them in the work force
is going to be a challenge. A new electrician has a lot to learn.
"To replace a master electrician who's retiring
today is going to require more formal education," Bird says.
"You can't take 40 years to learn it anymore."
But you will be paid nicely for your efforts. A residential
electrician makes $25,000 to $45,000 a year. A commercial electrician
pulls down $35,000 to $75,000 a year. And an industrial electrician
commands $75,000 to $125,000 a year.
Often, the more specific a technical skill or craft
is, the higher the demand and the higher the pay. A tool-and-die
maker can earn $50,000 to $100,000. These highly skilled craftspeople
make the tools and construct the metal molds, gauges and fixtures
used in manufacturing.
"That's an old, old trade, and I don't think
most people understand what it is. It's the artist of manufacturing,"
says Butch Merritt, director of job placement and cooperative education
at Tri-County Technical College in Pendleton, S.C. "That's
a real skill. Accuracy is so important."
There's nothing second-rate about these jobs or the
intensive training required. So you can toss any stereotypes about
vocational careers out the window. In today's job market, technical
skills are paramount.
The folks at the Association for Career and Technical
Education don't even like to say the word "vocational."
"We are desperately trying to get people to stop
using the word vocational," says Steve Ackley, director of
communications at the Association for Career and Technical Education.
"Years ago, it was always looked upon that those
classes were for second-rate students. They were the castaways."
But they are hardly castaways in today's job market.
Employees with technical degrees and certification remain in demand
while many employees with bachelor's degrees are being laid off.
Job opportunities for people with bachelor's degrees have remained
flat in the past six to 12 months.
January 2002 total
|Less than high school diploma
|High school diploma only
|Some college, no degree
|Post-secondary technical degree
|Two-year academic degree
|Source: Employment Policy
Foundation tabulation of Bureau of Labor Statistics/Census Current
Population Survey microdata files, January 2001 and January
Degrees of need
These days there are more people with four-year degrees than
commensurate employment. Check out these statistics from Kenneth
C. Gray, a professor of work force education and development at Penn
Only 23 percent of work in the 21st century requires
a four-year academic degree or higher.
Forty-three percent of four-year college grads are
underemployed, which means they have jobs that do not utilize their
degrees. Just ask any English major working at Starbucks.
"A four-year degree is a ticket to get in line
for an oversold airplane," Gray says.
In contrast, there's a shortage of people with technical
skills, including those trained at the two-year level.
"There's more seats on the airplane than people
holding tickets," Gray says.
Health care and information technology are two of
the fastest-growing fields that require just two years of training
and study after high school. There are job openings just about everywhere
for everyone from physical therapist assistants to dental hygienists
to respiratory therapists.
"The economy has not affected these people one
bit," Merritt says. "They don't need our help at the placement
Registered nurses are in particularly high demand.
"Hospitals are in bidding wars to win people
over," Merritt says. "They give $3,000 to $4,000 signing
bonuses. RNs can set their own hours."
As for information technology, more than 490,000 new
positions for computer support specialists are expected by 2010,
according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. These jobs can pay
as much as $40,000 a year. Desktop publishing, which requires a
vocational certificate, earn comparable salaries.
"There are many paths to success, and all of
them entail some sort of education beyond high school. But a bachelor's
degree is not the only one," Bird says. "There's room
for everybody to find their own niche."
-- Posted: March 1, 2002