Get a College Degree—Or Else?

Posted by Jessie Heimann on

Many Gen-Xers grew up hearing that the key to long-term financial success was to earn a college degree. Their blue-collar parents struggled to make ends meet, toiling in seemingly dead-end jobs because, for them, college was for smart, rich kids.

“You’re going to make something of yourself,” they whispered as they tucked their children into bed. “You’re going to college.”

While financial success, in many cases, can be tied to the number of hours one sits in a lecture hall, it certainly isn’t the only factor.

Fast forward a generation, and welcome to the world of skilled trades. It’s a world where the financial future looks bright, and members of the workforce are definitely “making something of themselves.”

Got Skills?
“There’s a new middle. It’s tougher, and takes more skill,” says Anthony Garnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

Skilled trade jobs can be found in construction, service and industrial areas. Training for skilled trades often combines classroom time with on-the-job training, as it does for prospective electricians, mechanics, or machinists. These jobs may require a certificate or 2-year degree, but they do not require a traditional 4-year degree – or the subsequent student loan payments.

America is currently experiencing a “skilled trades dilemma” as the aging Baby Boomers retire. In a article, Genevieve Stevens, interim dean for instruction at Houston Community College, stated, “We started focusing on academic instruction, but left behind the notion of work-force education. However, in a 2-year institution that costs less, the average work-force student can come out of that program with skills to gain immediate employment.”

Local Outlook
Fully aware of the dilemma, educators in Pennsylvania are teaming up with employers to attract high school students to skilled trades, with a local focus on manufacturing.

Thanks to high schools like Lehigh Career and Technical Institute (Lehigh County), Bethlehem Area Vocational Technical School (Northampton County), Carbon Career & Technical Institute (Carbon County), and Career Institute of Technology (Northampton County) students can jump-start their careers in areas like Electronic Engineering & Manufacturing and Electromechanical/Mechatronics Technology.

Could Manufacturing Be Considered “Cool?”
Other organizations, like the Manufacturers Resource Center (MRC) in Bethlehem, are creative in their approach to introducing students to manufacturing careers. The MRC has partnered with Dream It. Do It. Pennsylvania (DIDI PA) to sponsor the second annual “What’s So Cool About Manufacturing?” (WSCM) video contest.

“What’s So Cool About Manufacturing?” gives students the opportunity to directly connect with local manufacturers, document their experiences and present them in a “cool,” educational way. The contest was created to generate excitement that will draw students toward manufacturing career paths. In its first year, the contest received more than 123,000 votes during the three-day voting period.

“It is important for students and their parents to understand that today’s manufacturing has interesting and well-paying jobs,” says Jack Pfunder, executive director of MRC. “Through the WSCM contest, students receive a close-up view of the exciting career paths available to them in manufacturing.”

Sweet Dreams
While the world still needs lawyers and doctors, a lucrative future in skilled trades may sway parents to include whispers of “mechatronics technology” to their kids as they drift off to dreamland.

More Info About “What’s So Cool About Manufacturing?” Contest
Student videos will be uploaded to the DIDI PA website and available for voting Feb. 19-21. The video with the most votes will receive the “Viewer’s Choice Award.” The videos will also be reviewed by a panel of judges for awards in categories such as Outstanding Educational Value and Outstanding Creativity. For more information regarding the “What’s So Cool About Manufacturing?” video contest and Dream It. Do It. Pennsylvania, please visit and

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