Four year college not for every Tennessean

Published by The Tennessean

Today not all career paths start at University Trailhead. While “follow your dreams” may sound like good advice, it does not provide enough concrete guidance for working in today’s competitive marketplace. Instead of solely focusing on a college education, parents and teachers can provide kids and students the greatest service by opening up a conversation around different avenues that can lead to skilled and well-salaried jobs.

Four-year college is still the right choice for many. Two-year college or trade school may work best for students with other skill sets or narrowly focused interests. The key is to help the next generation focus on occupations that will lead to financial independence first, and then help them acquire matching education.

Beginning with the Class of 2015, the Tennessee Promise also is helping this cause. It offers two years of tuition-free community or technical college to Tennessee high school graduates. Students will be paired with a partnering organization serving their home county and will be provided a mentor who will support them during the college application process.

By thinking outside the college box, we quickly see that plenty of respectable, good-paying jobs that don’t require a four-year degree are going unfilled. For some, trade school and an apprenticeship or two years of focused training are all that’s required before moving into the workforce full time. Here are some of these work scenarios worth considering:

• Welding together a solid future. Earlier this year I heard a radio ad in Jacksonville, Fla., that called for 900 welders to fill openings in the shipbuilding and repair business. Researching further this in-demand skill, I found that Middle Tennessee also has a shortage of welders. It’s hard work but very good pay.

• Learning on the road. A recent Wall Street Journal article pinpointed a national shortage of more than 30,000 truck drivers. In fact, one Nashville company featured in the article said it has enough available freight for 100 more drivers, but it can’t find enough drivers to carry the cargo. Again, tough hours but solid pay.

• An “auto”-matic occupation. In another recent article, automobile dealers said there is a nationwide shortfall of 90,000 auto mechanics. In our car-obsessed culture, you can bet there will continue to be plenty of mechanic openings in communities throughout the country. Another dirty job but with quality compensation.

• Building your way up. In our country there is a continual deficit of construction workers, a job that requires heavy manual labor — and not quite the paycheck it warrants. However, starting in construction can provide an opportunity to seek apprenticeships in other higher-paying trade positions such an electrician, plumber or carpenter. Starting at the bottom can get your boot in the door.

• Not so hot and cold. Another steady trade that can garner a hefty paycheck is HVAC. A friend of mine in the heating and cooling business says that he is constantly looking for technicians who know how to install, maintain and repair equipment. Who knew keeping folks comfortable could be such a comfy career?

• One maturing livelihood. With our massive aging population there is a near nonstop demand for health care professionals — nursing assistants, licensed practical nurses, dental assistants and technicians, and the list goes on. These are all well-paying jobs with almost unlimited options for the foreseeable future.

• Life on — and above — the line. “Made in America” manufacturing is making a comeback. Just a few miles from here, in Chattanooga, Volkswagen will soon start adding 2,000 employees to build a new seven-passenger SUV. All that’s required? A two-year degree.

• Count on computing. Computer technology represents the most occupational opportunities nationwide. Did you know there are 200,000 computer professionals from other countries working in the U.S. on H-1B visas because we don’t develop enough competent technicians to cover our needs? Plus we employ hundreds of thousands more remotely. Kids love technology. Opportunity abounds.

These are just a handful of examples of the prospects for quality jobs in Tennessee. Truckers, welders and nurses are largely a mature workforce, which means retirements will further increase demand. Likewise, there’s a nearly never-ending search for qualified people in health care, technology and construction.

All these professions require getting focused — and getting educated. Let’s encourage our young people to develop a vision for their futures — then use all our resources to get them on the right path to success.

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