#94 – Inside Our Industry – Community College Enrollment is Down, But Skilled-Trades Programs are Booming

Posted on | Inside Our Industry

We love the following headline. As we all know, college isn’t for everyone. Skilled trades are vitally important to the economy. And in many cases, the pay is nearly equivalent to that of four-year college graduates. Below are excerpts from the story.

Community College Enrollment is Down, But Skilled-Trades Programs are Booming
NPR.org  |  March 28, 2022  |  ANYA STEINBERG & ELISSA NADWORNY

Since the pandemic began, more than a million students have held off from going to college, opting to work instead. Two-year public schools have been among the hardest hit — they’re down about three-quarters of a million students. Skilled-trades programs are the exception. Across the country, associate’s degree programs in fields like HVAC and automotive repair have seen enrollment numbers swell.

There’s a shortage in qualified construction workers, according to a survey conducted in September 2021 by the Associated General Contractors of America. The survey found that 89% of contractors were having a difficult time finding workers who were trained for the job. That affects project timelines — 61% of contractors reported project delays because of workforce shortages.

Tony Chaffin, leader of the construction program at Texas State Technical College, says the demand for workers is “huge.”

“We have contractors calling us weekly: ‘Do you have anybody that can work?’ ” he says. “I mean, they just want people.”

Part of the labor shortage can be attributed to experienced workers aging out of the field, Chaffin says. “The average building inspector is about 58 years old, so they’re leaving faster than they’re coming in.”

The Associated General Contractors of America sees investing in skilled trades programs as crucial for addressing the shortage of qualified workers.

“The federal government only spends $1 on career training for every $6 it puts into college prep,” says Steve Sandherr, the group’s CEO. “This funding gap for career training is one of the main reasons so many contractors have a low opinion of the current pipeline for preparing new craft and construction professionals.”

The heightened demand for students with a two-year degree or a certificate in skilled trades comes at a time when many prospective students are rethinking the value of college. For some students, graduating from a skilled-trades program could mean securing a high-paying job without taking on too much debt. A growing number of people without a bachelor’s degree are out-earning their four-year college peers, according to a study from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.

Full report.