There’s more than one path to satisfying employment

The job market has become more demanding, which has required candidates to acquire more skills and experience to stay competitive. While a four-year degree is the more common route to a career, there is growing support for apprenticeships. Late last year, President Barack Obama announced a $100 million grant to expand apprenticeships in the U.S.

Apprenticeships and trade schools can be routes toward gaining financially meaningful employment. According to the White House, 87 percent of apprentices are employed after completing their programs. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that electrician and pipe fitter positions are among the most popular apprenticeship occupations. They carry a median hourly wage of $23.96 and $23.62 respectively, or about $960 weekly. In manufacturing, first-line supervisors of production and operating workers is the top occupation for those who have a certificate but not a post-secondary degree. The median weekly earnings for that position is $1,058.

Columnist Mike Baach disputes the idea that college is the only route to well-paying jobs: “The notion that you cannot get a good job without going to college is both a false and often damaging statement to our youth. We must begin the process at home and in our schools to let our children know that there is great respect for skilled tradesmen.”

Return on investment

While there may be growing support for alternative routes to a career, the bureau shows the resilience of the educated workforce. Its April 2015 numbers, which trace unemployment by educational attainment between 2005 and 2015, show those in the workforce with a four-year degree had an unemployment rate no higher than 5 percent during that 10-year period. Comparatively, those with only a high school degree reached an 11 percent unemployment rate, and consistently had a higher level of unemployment as a group.

In his column this month, Dr. Luis Proenza calls attention to the economic benefit of public higher education. He writes, “… with their higher incomes, students in Ohio will pay back to the state $1.84 in inflation-adjusted dollars just in additional taxes for every dollar the state invests in higher education. That is a nearly 2-to-1 return on investment, and by anyone’s accounting, that is an excellent return on investment.”

Though the bureau finds those with a bachelor’s degree have median weekly earnings of $1,101, higher than the $668 per week earned by those with only a high school diploma, the cost to obtain that degree has gone up significantly. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, between 2002–2003 and 2012–2013, prices for undergraduate tuition, room and board at public institutions rose 39 percent, reaching an average of $17,474 for a public four-year institution.

Having access to a skilled workforce is essential for employers and the communities in which they’re located. Without the availability of well-paying jobs, employers relocate and communities suffer. The more options job candidates have to learn the skills needed to gain meaningful employment, the greater the chances that all stakeholders benefit.

Adam Burroughs is interested in the people and businesses making a difference in Akron/Canton.