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August 8, 2019

Careers in Trade

MHT Partners  | Education Investment Bank

Most families aspire for their children to earn a college degree. Yet higher education affordability remains a top concern, and the associated level of student debt can create years, even decades, worth of financial challenges for young adults. So, what about students who lack the time or finances to commit to a four-year degree program? Does an alternative scenario exist that yields the same results?

What is a Trade School?
A trade or technical school focuses on teaching marketable skills for particular careers. Vocational schools offer streamlined training opportunities in comparison to a bachelor’s degree. For this reason, trade programs tend to involve shorter time between enrollment and graduation. Furthermore, the learning schedule is often part-time in nature, providing greater flexibility with evening and weekend classes. Class sizes tend to be smaller than four-year college programs and the learning content typically includes hands-on practice, whether in school or via an externship.

Lower Cost Options Can Yield Quality Results
For those who lack the finances or time to invest four years in college, pursuing a trade diploma or certificate is not necessarily a “step down.” In fact, these programs provide the necessary skills that lead to very stable incomes and long-term careers. For example, the average annual wage for an air traffic controller is $125,000. Construction managers, computer network architects and elevator mechanics can also work their way to salaries of $100,000 or more . Trade programs typically require two years to complete and though they are not equivalent to a bachelor’s degree, tuition is significantly less. At the same time, while some trade programs are very specific in nature, for example, a commercial pilot’s license, others, like welding, do not necessarily restrict the student to a specific industry upon completion.

Trade Programs Can Lead to Meaningful Careers
Four-year degrees are meant to provide a holistic learning experience via core curriculum in addition to a concentrated study in one or more fields. That said, liberal arts’ programs face challenges in demonstrating the perceived value of their degrees as they can make it more difficult to connect coursework to careers. No doubt the application of such degrees is useful beyond the subject knowledge; however, there is not always a clear path to employment, and the demand for liberal arts degrees is currently declining. In contrast, trade programs offer hands-on learning as part of coursework, and in many cases, require externships in order to complete the program. These opportunities build real-world experiences that reinforce the content learned as well as boost the student’s marketable credentials upon graduation. Many trade schools maintain close connections with local employers that seek to hire these students with job-ready skills. Like traditional universities, nearly all trade schools offer career services to streamline the transition from school to career more easily for graduates. One added benefit of trade careers is that many cannot be easily replaced by a computer or outsourced to other countries. For this reason, there is actually a shortage of trade employees in the U.S., and the hands-on, in-person job offers very stable employment.

A Meaningful Path to Consider
Trade schools are a great option for working adults, people with family commitments or those needing greater flexibility in their education. It is an alternative that provides the chance to learn in-demand skills for a specific career and enter, or re-enter, the workforce more quickly than would otherwise be possible. The lower cost and greater convenience can be a valuable tradeoff for students as they think about their path to employment and a long-term career.

MHT Partners, a leading education investment bank, will keep their finger on the pulse of this emerging education alternative and welcome the opportunity to learn more about your experience in the education industry.

Alex Hicks (ahicks@mhtpartners.com)
Rebecca Bell (rbell@mhtpartners.com)

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