COLORADO SPRINGS, Co. — The pandemic flipped almost everything on its head; is time now to do the same for higher education?
"If you had a good GPA, you're going to go to college, right? And that is a good choice for a lot of people, but there are plenty of people where that's not necessarily a good choice," said Tatiana Bailey, the executive director of the University of Colorado Colorado Springs economic forum.
She’s noticed what’s called “the skills gap” – basically more tradesmen are retiring than starting work, and it has been growing since the pandemic.
According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the three fastest-growing jobs right now are wind turbine technicians, nurse practitioners, and solar panel installers--all jobs with skills that can be gained through trade school, not a typical four-year college degree.
"Computer systems, administrators, as an example, you don't need a computer science degree for that. You can do a six to 12-month certification to be that IT person," she said.
While a college graduate technically makes more over time, with a trade education, you can spend less time in school and more time working on a career, many with median salaries between $50,000 and $100,000 a year.
Another plus: many trade jobs are considered “essential” and can weather a recession.
"Since COVID, we've grown about 20% and we still have more job opportunities than students," said Scott Shaw, the president and CEO of Lincoln Tech, which has campuses nationwide.
He says most of their students are in their mid to late twenties, looking to make a career change or follow a passion not offered by a traditional college.
As infrastructure has taken center stage with President Biden’s $1.5 trillion bill, more skilled workers are going to be needed. Shaw hopes more attention is put on vocational programs.
"We should be trying to figure out what is the best next step for these individuals to get skills, to get into the workforce so that they can increase their productivity, increase their self-esteem work towards something better," he said.
Working towards something better that's not necessarily getting a four-year degree.