In a world where the cost of living is quickly outpacing wage growth and student loan debt is at all time highs, many people who should by now be established in their careers and lives are struggling to gain a foothold. The average amount of money spent for a four-year college degree is over $125k, and the average student loan debt to four year graduates is $33,000. What’s more, even if you make minimum payments on time without missing a single one, you could find yourself paying your loans for 30 years or more. This has added to the stress of wages being lower than the cost of living, leaving many to wonder if there might be a better way to get established in a career and subsequently in life.

At one point in time, getting married, buying a house, and starting a family were the traditional milestones of adulthood. Now people are focused more on careers and success, particularly financial success. Milestones like getting a full time job, moving out of your parents’ house, and achieving financial independence are what many people are aiming for when they are making choices about their futures. GenZ is the generational cohort looking to meet these goals right now, but unfortunately 58% of them can’t afford to live without parental support.

It might be time to look into trade or vocational school as an alternative. Trade school graduates have half the unemployment rate of college graduates, and as the baby boomers start to retire the jobs like electricians, plumbers, and HVAC technicians will be in high demand. While recent college grads can have higher salaries initially than vocational school grads, over ten years that gap closes to just over $1000 a year. The argument used to be that that first ten years mattered in the long run, but student loan debt has all but wiped out that advantage.

Currently, 60% of metal workers say that labor shortages are one of the biggest problems facing their industry today, and 80% of contractors are struggling to find people able to do skilled trades necessary to their projects, from plumbing to electrical to roofing to HVAC. Even hospitals are feeling the pinch, with 30% struggling to find lab techs, LPNs, and CNAs.

Vocational training can still come with costs and debt, but they are a fraction of that of a four year college degree. While the typical costs associated with a bachelor’s degree are well over $100k, the average costs associated with a trade school education are just over $30k, about a quarter that of a college degree. The average debt load of a college graduate is $30k, while the average debt of a trade school graduate is a much more manageable $10k, just a third of their college graduate peers. Closing a $10k gap is much more manageable than closing a $30k gap, even with a lower starting salary.

That’s not to say college is only for getting a job or that you can’t go back and do college later, but if you are trying to achieve the milestones of a successful adult vocational training might be a good path to take. After all, it’s easier to pay for a college education as you go if you are earning a livable wage in stable employment already.
Learn more about redefining success with vocational training below!