What Kinds of Jobs Are We Talking About?

I’ve written several times in recent months about how Center of the American Experiment is gearing up for a multi-year project that will make the case that large numbers of young people, feeling pressed to seek four-year college degrees even though they really don’t want to, wind up dropping out, minus good jobs and routinely in big debt.  This is so even though they, in fact, could have won good jobs and started building solid middle-class careers if they had pursued different kinds of post-secondary training, including one- and two-year certificate programs in community and technical colleges, the excellent job training offered by the armed forces, or apprenticeships.

Naturally, I’m frequently asked what kinds of jobs we’re talking about, and as often as not, I’ll cite “welding” as a prototypical occupation that pays well but doesn’t require a baccalaureate degree.  I’ll also mention other trades such as carpentry and plumbing and a few other jobs such as x-ray technicians and massage therapists.  But it occurred to me that it would be useful to explicitly list other jobs that (1) either generally or don’t necessarily require four-year degrees; (2) yet nonetheless require some kind of post-secondary education; and (3) often pay reasonably well.

The following incomplete roster of jobs and activities, in awkward alphabetical order, are pulled from various publications and other sources, including Job U: How to Find Wealth and Success by Developing the Skills Companies Actually Need, by Nicholas Wyman (2015); “Skill Development in Middle Level Occupations: The Role of Apprenticeship Training,” by Robert I. Lerman (2013); and a governmental document or two.

Air ambulance paramedics; aircraft mechanics; artisans who hand-craft high-end furniture; auto technicians; builders of complex gas turbine generators; carpenters, cardiovascular technologists; cement masons and concrete finishers; computer support specialists; chefs; correctional officers; decorators; dental hygienists; electricians; entrepreneurs who run their own photography studios; firefighters; fitness trainers; and flight attendants.

Glaziers; heating and air conditioner specialists; installers of cutting-edge robotic assembly machines; iron workers; law enforcement officers; machinists; massage therapists, mechatronics engineers (I had to look it up too); medical records and health information technicians; operating engineers and other construction equipment operators; paralegals and legal assistants; painters; and people who build our homes and bridges.

People who keep advanced manufacturing humming by programming and operating computer-controlled tools and robots.  people who keep complex IT networks running; people who monitor our health and care for our sick and diseased; people who repair engines; pipefitters; plumbers; radiologic technologists and technicians; salespeople; sheet metal workers; some kinds of nurses, steamfitters; truck drivers; truck mechanics and diesel engine specialists; tuck-pointers; veterinary technologists and technicians . . . and back to welders.

According to Dr. Lerman, an economist and perhaps the nation’s leading authority on apprenticeships, while the proportion of what’s called “middle-skill jobs” such as those noted above, indeed, have fallen modestly in recent decades, they still comprise nearly half of all U.S. employment.  Which is to say, there is plenty of hospitable terrain to explore and profitably mine by those with less than four-year degrees as long as they continue their education beyond high school in one serious way or another.

Mitch Pearlstein is Founder of Center of the American Experiment.