Dear Mr. Dad, my son will be finishing high school this year and my wife and I want to help set him on a good career path. We’d always assumed that he’d go to college, but he’s a lot more interested in carpentry—and he’s really good. I’ve been reading about how hard it is for young people to get a job these days, even with a degree. Should we push him towards college or encourage him to develop his skills in a trade school?
A: There are, of course, plenty of exceptions, but for the most part, having only a high school diploma severely limits upward mobility and earnings. For that reason, encouraging your son to get any kind of higher education is the right thing to do. And it’s good that you’re open-minded enough to consider non-college higher education options. The fact is that although we’ve been pushing it on kids for decades, college is not the right place for everyone. Only about a third of recent college grads are working in a field that’s related to their major, and unemployment lines are filled with young people who haven’t been able to find jobs at all.
The most important factor here is for your son to pursue a career he’s truly interested in. For him, that’s carpentry, but for the children of other readers who are facing similar dilemmas, that could be any number of things, including auto repair, plumbing, gardening, cooking, construction, and even web design. None of those skills requires a college degree and all of them can provide a good income, because there will always be a need for people who are willing to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty (literally and metaphorically).