Trade degrees have carved out a useful niche within the world of postsecondary training. They provide very specific degree pathways towards livable-wage careers. The traditional academic pathway leading to a liberal arts style degree is not always a good fit for many students who want a career-focused education. This is where trade degrees are an excellent option.
Trade degrees have long been the backbone of many two-year community colleges. Many of today’s students desire to enter the workforce with specific training in a career without the long slog towards a bachelor’s degree. And with the open-door access provided by community colleges, students are able to matriculate with only a high school diploma or GED in hand. In combination with the lower cost of tuition, both trade and transfer degrees offered at community colleges are gaining in popularity nationwide. In fact, community colleges now serve a staggering 41% of all US undergraduates.
Admission at a two-year institution is open-access, rather than the merit-based model used by baccalaureate institutions. The pathway to admission at most community colleges includes the possession of a high school diploma or a GED. In addition, students must complete an academic assessment test to place them in the appropriate classes. From there, admission to the trade program varies. Some programs have guaranteed admission if the student completes the required steps, while other programs, like health science programs in nursing, radiology, and dental hygiene, are highly competitive.
While it is uncommon for trade degrees to move beyond the associate degree level, more programs are offering bachelor degree pathways, especially in high-demand fields such as the health sciences, sustainable agriculture, and sustainable energy. These occupations are complicated, and often technical, which necessitates the need for additional training and education through the acquisition of a bachelor’s degree. In addition, those who obtain a bachelor’s degree in a trade, often increase their chances in procuring a post-graduation job offer.
When applying for admission, most programs require an associate degree in the same or similar field as the bachelor’s degree program. In addition, programs also generally require general education courses in English, humanities, social science, math, and science to be completed.
Careers and Pay
Air Traffic Controller
These professionals are responsible for the coordination and movement of aircraft that are in-flight. They work in towers, route centers, or approach control facilities. Job training is crucial, as the occupation is demanding and very stressful at times, given the nature of the work and the potential consequences should a controller make an error. The typical pathway includes an associate or bachelor’s degree from a program accredited by the Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative program. The average salary is $122,990. The occupational outlook is expected to be flat, with little to no growth through 2028.
Referred to as aircraft mechanics, these trade professionals perform repairs and maintenance services on aircraft. Avionics technicians perform maintenance and repairs as well, but also spend much of their time testing components as well as assisting with the manufacturing process. This highly specialized career can be obtained through completing a degree at a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) accredited technician school or program. Others qualify through training and time spent in the military. The median pay is $64,090 per year. The occupational outlook is expected to be 3% through 2028.
Computer Aided Drafting (CAD)
Drafters are required to complete postsecondary education typically through the completion of an associate’s degree in drafting at a community college or technical school. Drafters also can obtain industry certifications through the American Design Drafting Association after completing their studies. A drafter’s main job function is to use specialized software to turn designs into technical drawings. The median annual wage for a drafter is $56,830 as of May 2019 with the highest 10% earning $87,720 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Construction managers engage in the planning, budgeting, and oversight of residential and commercial construction projects from start to finish. They must possess technical and trade expertise along with sound management skills in order to balance the multiple moving parts that make up construction projects. They are also referred to as project managers and general contractors. They typically have a bachelor’s degree in project management, construction management, or business. There are multiple career entry points for this occupation, but it is getting more important that these professionals have a bachelor’s degree. The median pay is $95,260. Expected job growth is estimated at 10% through 2028, which is double the average rate for all other occupations.
Culinary professionals perform the food preparation at eating establishments and may also oversee and manage kitchen personnel. Over 50% work in restaurants with the remaining percentage working for special food services businesses, hotels, gaming and vacation facilities, and amusement parks. These individuals must complete postsecondary training at a culinary school, two-year community college culinary arts program, or four-year university. The median pay according to BLS is $51,530. The projected growth through 2028 is expected to be a robust 11%.
Dental hygienists examine patients for signs of dental decay and also provide preventive care, such as cleanings and other oral hygiene methods. In addition, they assist dentists and oral surgeons with procedures. The main pathway to a dental hygiene career is an associate’s degree in dental hygiene from a two-year community college. These programs are highly competitive and take approximately three years, including completing prerequisite courses. The median salary is $76,220 as of May 2019. Growth is estimated at 11% through 2028.
Logistician’s coordinate an organization’s supply chain to ensure the efficient movement of a company’s products and components from point of origin to the end-user or consumer. They are involved in the myriad steps along the supply chain, which includes purchasing, transport, inventory, and storage. They work in several sectors such as retail, manufacturing, and wholesale supplies. An associate degree in supply chain management or logistics may result in an entry-level position although most positions require a bachelor’s degree in logistics, supply chain management, or business. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary is $74,750. Occupational growth is expected to be 5% from 2018-2028.
Radiologic and MRI Technician
Radiology and MRI technicians perform imaging examinations using distinct technology. They can also specialize in specific areas of the body through obtaining certification in multiple areas. Approximately 60% of MRI and radiologic technicians work for state, local, and private hospitals followed by 20% at diagnostic facilities. The most common pathway to the career is through an associate’s degree at an accredited program. Many MRI technologists start out as radiologic techs and end up specializing in MRI technology after five years of working as a radiologic tech. MRI techs earn an average salary of $73,410, compared to $62,280 for radiologic techs. The growth rate for radiology technicians is estimated at 9% through 2028 compared to 11% for MRI techs.
Sustainable energy careers encompass a wide range of occupations with one thing in common; the responsible stewardship of resources. Careers focus on industries such as biofuels, energy, forestry, and water conservation. The sector is expected to experience above average growth through 2028; demand increases as society moves away from fossil fuels and public policy moves toward the requirement of sustainability.
Turf professionals design, install, and care for the grounds of both residential and commercial entities. Their work environments include colleges and universities, golf courses, sports complexes, parks, schools, and more. In addition to grounds maintenance expertise, they often oversee workers, making the need for strong management skills important. The job is physical in nature and is an excellent fit for those who desire to work outdoors. The job requires an associate’s degree from an accredited turf management program. The median pay is approximately $45,000, with job growth expected to be 9% through 2028.
Part of the appeal of an associate trade degree is the strong return on investment. Students receive job training for a specific occupation, including coursework and internships, and exit the program “job ready.” Because associate’s degrees can be completed in just two years and charge less tuition per credit than their university counterparts, students leave the program with little to no debt. With the rising cost of tuition, many students find an associate’s degree in a trade an attractive option.
Data derived from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that the average cost of college tuition for an associate degree is just $3,570 per year at public two-year institutions. And with many of these students eligible for full federal and state financial aid, they can expect to have their full tuition, fees, and books paid for each year. Some programs in health sciences such as nursing, radiology, and dental hygiene cost more due to increased administrative burdens, costly medical equipment and lab supplies.
In addition, these students tend to have higher costs when it comes to textbooks and supplies. Even so, the cost is still a great value compared to an expensive bachelor’s degree program. And considering the potential career payoff of a health science degree, the value increases even more.
The average bachelor’s degree at a public university charging in-state tuition is approximately $10,000 per year. These figures do not include fees, books, lodging, and food. The prices vary greatly by institution so it is critical for students to compare prices as well as financial aid options for each school. For example, first-generation college students can qualify for free tuition at many institutions, resulting in a debt-free education. You can also investigate the possibility of free online colleges, yes, they are out there!
Earnings & Pay
While earnings and pay vary greatly among trade occupations, they show that the trades are alive and well and continue to thrive. Moreover, trade programs provide meaningful and fulfilling occupations and pay very livable wages. And in many instances, they pay wages that far outpace the national average. With occupations in the health sciences and sustainable energy fields paying out $70K+ per year with high job demand, a trade degree looks like an excellent investment for the foreseeable future.
Focus/Attention to Detail
Trade jobs are high stakes jobs. Working with sick patients or heavy machinery comes with inherent safety hazards. Being able to focus and be attentive to detail is paramount.
Trade degrees, particularly in the health sciences, require exceptional interpersonal communication as professionals are dealing with patients and clients.
Due to the technical nature of many trade degrees, it is critical the student have a technical acumen that parlays well with the technical nature of their future occupations in nursing, dental hygiene, energy conservation, and the like.
The latest statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics states the overall growth rate for all jobs combined is expected to be 5% overall through 2028. The 5% represents the total growth; it is not an annual rate. When looking at trade occupations, the rates are favorable. Most trade careers range between 5% – 12% growth during the same time period. Those with specializations and certifications should have increased odds of gaining employment. Moreover, those willing to relocate to metro areas should have more job opportunities as well.
Air Traffic Controller
This degree trains individuals to meet FAA standards in air traffic control. Classes may include air capacity management, air traffic control tower operations, and fundamentals in air traffic control.
Teaches skills and knowledge to become an aircraft mechanic. Courses may include aviation maintenance, aviation mathematics, cleaning and corrosion, and materials and processes.
Computer Aided Drafting (CAD)
Most programs are at the certificate or associate degree level. Courses may include AutoCAD AutoCAD 3D modeling, AutoCAD fundamentals, and Autodesk Revit MEP.
Offered at the associate and bachelor degree level, construction management includes courses in general education and construction estimating, construction materials and methods, and construction and OSHA regulations.
Culinary arts is offered as an associate and bachelor degree. Courses typically include culinary skills, food and beverage service, and nutrition for foodservice.
Offered as a two-year associate degree, courses include several program prerequisites in the sciences as well as dental materials, dental sciences, and practice management.
Logistics degrees are conferred at the associate, bachelor and master degree levels. Courses may include decision science, logistics management, and supply chain management.
Available at the associate and bachelor degree levels, radiology programs include heavy coursework in the sciences as well as career skills courses such as image production, patient care, and RAD procedures.
Offered as at all degree levels, sustainable agriculture course work covers a wide variety of topics such as basic animal science, farm maintenance, greenhouse design, permaculture, and plant propagation.
Renewable energy degrees are offered at all levels. Coursework may include design principles in renewable energy, engineering and technology in sustainable energy, and fundamentals of power and alternative energy.
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