Part 2: The “Alternative Route”

As a high school senior, I can vividly recall a huge influx of direct-mail flyers, emails, TV/social media ads, and other various outlets bombarding me with content for the “coolest” colleges in my area. To this day, I’m still baffled by the sheer amount of marketing dollars put forth by these universities soliciting kids to enroll after graduation. Not only that, but I never once heard guidance counselors talk about these technical schools, or potential career paths aside from white-collar professions that required a degree. A phrase I think every high schooler can relate to is the dreaded “what are you going to do/where are you going to go after school?” question. In this blog post I plan to continue Paige’s story, and give a broader perspective on some alternative/”non-traditional” ways to answer that very question.
After moving back home, Paige quickly joined a program at Cincinnati State, enrolling as a Construction Management major. She spoke highly of her classmates, professors, location, cost, and virtually every aspect of the program. “Flexible class hours, engaging staff, and real-world applications” were among a few reasons Paige enjoyed her time at Cincinnati State. From day one she had a passion for the material, but slowly came to the realization that this might not be the particular path she sought out in the beginning. As she progressed through the program, she began to wonder how much merit a 2 year degree would carry her in the construction world. The following few months, she began to ponder alternative routes to segue into.
A friend of hers had been attending a welding school at the time and was very encouraging of her to check it out and sample the trade school. After a week of carefully weighing her options out, she found herself at Elite Welding Academy and was instantly enamored by everything this trade had to offer. From the industrial environment, technology, and overall creativeness that oozed from the wasn’t long until she made the transition. Shortly after she found herself among 4 instructors that quickly became mentors to her in this new chapter of her career path. This particular school offered intensive 40 hour/week courses on structural and pipe welding, issuing a welding certificate at the end of their training. 6 months later she graduated the program and walked in her first job with a career that she’s ecstatic about and plans to grow in perpetuity. What initially began as a “back-pocket option” is now a full fledged opportunity that has taken her to all different parts of the country for a multitude of industries.
I now want to overlay hard numbers and statistics for why welding might be a more sound economic choice for young kids debating on “what to do after graduation.”
Looking into the hard numbers, like $1.5+ Trillion in Student Loan debt, it’s easy to see just how insanely expensive the university path can be. In Paige’s case, her 6 month program at Elite Welding Academy was roughly $15K with everything included. Comparatively, the average cost for a 4 year college degree hovers around $42K and takes 8x the time to complete on average. If you know a college grad, you’ll know that that $42K can be significantly higher depending on factors like financial aid, type of degree, and caliber of school. I spoke with Damon, Instructor of LBCC from my previous blog, who delivered some numbers that might be surprising to some. For California students, a 60-unit degree will run you around $3K, with a large portion of that susceptible to financial assistance for Long Beach high school graduates. Not only that, but most community colleges in the US offer dual enrollment where a high school senior can take college level courses to put them ahead before they are actually a full time college student. Another statistic to recognize is the projection of a 26% increase in welding jobs in the upcoming year, putting welding high up on the list of fast growing professions.
Aside from tuition expense, the other big factor to consider is what your earning potential would be in a new role. For starters, the average entry salary for a college graduate in 2019 hovers just over the $50K mark. There are two salaries I feel are necessary to talk about for the sake of comparison; a median welder’s salary, and a pipe welder’s salary. Last year the median salary for a welder was roughly $42K with a pipe welder falling just below the $60K mark. With a surplus of nearly 500,000 jobs, it certainly pays to be more specialized in your field by finding a particular niche. In Paige’s case, there is a large abundance of work and many willing employers looking for talented pipe welder’s to fill the voids. Often times these employers in need will host a bidding/auction style process to determine the wages for a particular job.
Oh, and did I mention that $60K can be achieved in just 6 months? The beauty of having a large job pool with a marginal number of applicants means flexibility to work WHENever you want, and HOWever long you wish to work for. “With the right amount of overtime, it’s not difficult for someone to achieve that 60K mark in half of a year,” Paige remarks, “it all depends on how much that person is willing to put in. It is definitely not rare for a welder to work year round and achieve a 6 figure income.” All of this, mind you, is done under the wing of Paige’s employer who is supplying their staff with full health benefits and all the perks of being an employee.
To complete this part 3 trifecta of blog posts I will continue Paige’s story to give you some insight on the kind of work she is doing now. I’ll also talk about versatility in skilled trade work, welding career opportunities, and how you can get started….stay tuned for more!

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