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Every generation becomes known by their shared characteristics. One of these traits for Generation Z is practicality, and it’s why there’s a gradual uptick in interest in vocational schools as opposed to four-year colleges.

Gen-Z practicality follows the thought process that success isn’t just measured by how much money you can make with a college degree – but how comfortably you can live with crippling student debt in order to get that degree. According to the U.S. Department of Education, a four-year degree from a public university can set you back as much as $93,000.

A conservative approach

The Great Recession was an awakening for many, showing us that a college degree offers no protection from the turmoil and job losses that come with economic uncertainty. As a result, a growing number of students are exploring alternatives to the traditional four-year college track after high school.

They’ve discovered that jobs in the trades as plumbers, electricians and HVAC technicians offer pay that’s often competitive to jobs offered to college graduates. There are strategic differences, though.

  • The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that job growth in these industries is projected at 12% to 14% for the next eight years.
  • These jobs are tied to emerging technology, but they’re some of the least likely to be automated or outsourced because of their hands-on nature.
  • Residential service positions offer the opportunity to bypass the drudgery of office cubicle life, as well as the ability to see daily proof of your contributions.
  • Post high school education for these jobs is only a third of the cost and takes half the time.
  • Apprenticeship opportunities offer the ability to earn while you learn, and many students graduate from trade or technical school with both a guaranteed job and little or no student debt because it’s been paid off by their future employer.

Changing priorities

Generation-Z also approaches life more pragmatically. They’re not as obsessed with status, and perhaps even more than millennials, they are looking for ways to contribute to society. Jobs in the trades have been termed as “blue collar,” and that’s not an issue for Gen-Z. They also are capable of seeing that plumbers, electricians and HVAC technicians are crucial for maintaining our nation’s infrastructure.

The money’s nothing to sneeze at, either. Average annual salaries range from $46,000 to $52,000, and management positions often exceed $77,000 and reach $107,000. Pursuing a job in the trades is a conservative approach to securing a job that offers career opportunities that are relatively free of concerns about economic ups and downs. Best of all, you won’t spend the first 10 years of your professional career paying off your student loan debt. Use this interactive map to learn more about trade schools in your area.