U.S. News


More Gen Z high school graduates are pursuing trade careers

Enrollment in vocation-focused community colleges rose 16% in 2023.
A student works during welding class.
Posted at 2:28 PM, Apr 24, 2024

From a young age, Ivan Sedgley considered a skilled trade career.

"I always had an interest because I was always good with my hands, so I preferred doing that than sitting behind a desk," said Sedgley, a TIG welder at Marlin Steel Wire Products in Baltimore.

When he learned how much a bachelor's degree would cost, it sealed the deal.

"I actually never saw what the total price would be for any college I would consider looking at. "I didn't want to take part of any of that," he said.

But, unlike college, the path to vocational careers wasn't heavily discussed at Sedgley's high school.

"I had agricultural class and that's where I learned about welding. But other than that, no other resources," he said.

Sedgley is just one part of a growing trend nationwide. Enrollment in vocation-focused community colleges rose 16% in 2023, according to the National Student Clearinghouse. That's the biggest increase the education nonprofit has noticed since it started tracking that data in 2018.

Drew Greenblatt, the CEO of Marlin Steel Wire Products in Baltimore says he has noticed a shift.

"I think people have misunderstood what the economy needs. The economy needs a blend of some doctors and lawyers where you have to go to college, and you also have some places where you need plumber — where you need welders or you need people that work in construction," Greenblatt said.

The average salary for a TIG welder is $54,719, according to job website Indeed.That's nearly the same as the average salary for recent college graduates.

"You know, I think manufacturing has the worst PR firm in the world. ... we're doing interesting things, we're very safe, we pay great and we offer great benefits. And for years to come, there's going to be a lot of people with gray hair here that are going to retire," Greenblatt said.