In a Tight Job Market, High School Grads Can Make Big Salaries

Career and Vocational Tech Training Can Propel Wages to Six Figures Welders, Plumbers, Technicians

Across the country, high school students are making their final decisions about which college to attend in the fall. And millions of college seniors wonder if they will be able to find a job after graduation. At the same time, Express Employment Professionals experts are reporting high demand for jobs that don’t require a college degree-many of those jobs pay wages that rival or exceed those of four-year college graduates.

“Young adults graduating high school have more options than just attending college,” said John A. Thomas, a professional staffing field consultant at Express International Headquarters in Oklahoma City. “They can begin a rewarding career in the skilled trades. By choosing that career path, they are filling a major void that exists in manufacturing companies today. That entry-level opportunity can turn into a lifetime career where they can earn wages similar to individuals graduating college with a degree.”

Thomas says that some common well-paying jobs for which only a high school degree is needed include:

  • Welder
  • Electrician apprentice
  • Plumber apprentice
  • Maintenance tech
  • Accounts payable/receivable clerk

Workers in these fields, or similar ones, can expect to earn $40,000 to $60,000 and with some additional training, could possibly see salaries above $70,000.

Nursing, banking, call center and oilfield work may not offer high entry-level pay relative to the industry, Thomas notes, but they do offer chances for fast upward mobility after some on-the-job training.

Terri Greeno, an Express franchise owner in Crystal Lake and West Dundee, Illinois, estimates with just some training after high school, employees in quality control, manufacturing, welding, computer numerical control (CNC) set up and industrial maintenance could earn more than $20 an hour, plus overtime-or well above $40,000 a year.

Greeno reports she has seen individuals with four-year degrees actually pursue basic technical training in order to secure jobs that do not require a college degree but offer more opportunity, particularly in the areas of welding, CNC, and industrial maintenance.

“When I look at the job market today, if you are graduating high school, you have so many options other than attending university,” said Dwayne Williams, an Express franchise owner in Guelph, Ontario. “There are great careers in the skilled trades, and these are careers with huge potential for growth.”

“We work with several companies that offer excellent benefits and long-term opportunities for career growth,” said Jeff Rey, an Express franchise owner in Howell and Brighton, Michigan. “Many companies in our area invite us to present to high school graduates with little or no industrial experience who are willing to learn new skills.”

Hanif Hemani, an Express owner in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, estimates with just some training after high school, trade jobs offer good options for graduates, even in an economic downturn.”Even through market changes, which we have been seeing due to the fluctuating oil and gas market, I do still feel that the trades offer more resiliency than some of the other traditional roles, like engineering and similar fields,” he said.

Although a college degree is still very valuable for many fields, many people now recognize it is not the only career path.”

Deb Gray, an Express franchise owner in West Pittsburgh, also reports that some of the best paying jobs in her area that do not require college degrees are in manufacturing. She agrees that one of the biggest misconceptions is that people without a college degree will be “excluded from opportunity” and that people do not understand “how important soft skills are to an employer.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, making six figures without a college degree is not outside the realm of possibility. Below are the jobs with median annual wages in the high 5-figures, approaching $100,000.

“A college degree is not synonymous with a successful career and a well-paying job,” said Bill Stoller, CEO of Express. “Despite what conventional wisdom leads some to believe, it is entirely possible to earn a good living without a four-year college education and you can do it debt free. There is, of course, no replacing the value of hard work, a willingness to learn and good interpersonal skills, which are almost always required for professional success.”

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