The house you live in—was it built by someone with a college degree?

The roads you drive on or the cars you drive—did the men and women who built them have college degrees? 

In most cases, the answers to each of these questions is a resounding “NO”!

The fact is that you don’t need a college degree to be successful—what you need is:

  • drive/ambition
  • a willingness to work hard and learn
  • opportunity

Look at Henry Ford, Elon Musk, and Steve Jobs. They are some of the most successful and wealthy men in the history of our country. None of them had or have college degrees. What they had was the desire or interest in something, the willingness to put in the work to learn from the ground up and the opportunity.  In some cases, they had to make that opportunity for themselves. 

For ambitious young people today, there is no need to create opportunity—it is ripe for the picking! With issues related to the widening skills gap, an aging workforce, high unemployment and more than 11 million unfilled trades jobs, high school graduates or those looking to change careers can write their own tickets to success in “blue-collar” jobs. The key is to recognize where the opportunities lie and to realize that a 4-year college degree doesn’t necessarily equal success. 

Classroom learning and office settings are fine for some, but many young men and women can be much happier—and have much more lucrative careers—working in the skilled trades, where they can be outside and see the fruits of their labors each and every day. There is a lot of pride in building something that lasts and has a profound effect on our local communities, or even our country.  We need to give our young people the chance to make their own choices…to pave their own paths to success without being pushed onto one path.

Rory Hall, Co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of Grade Tech says that he has seen firsthand the success you can have in the trades. “The most wealthy people I know and the most successful people I know, none of them have a degree. They all own their own businesses, and they all started from somewhere.” He adds that a college degree doesn’t always equate to making big money, but there is potential to earn a great living in construction and other trades. “There’s way more people with degrees seeking these low-figure paying jobs and a shortage of people within the trades that within a matter of years can be making six figures, building a career or turning around and being an entrepreneur and starting a business of their own.”

Need even more reasons to opt for the trades, rather than go to a 4-year college? Consider that student loans in this country are currently hovering at more than $1.7 trillion¹—TRILLION! And, more than 46 million Americans have student loan debt. We are digging holes for our children that they may never be able to dig out of and, in many cases, pigeonholing them into a life that they don’t want. Many young men and women would be much happier in a trade than in college and we need to open our eyes and realize this. 

“We appreciate all of those who get a college degree and keep other parts of our society running, so why is it so difficult to appreciate the trade mentality where we just want to get to work, outdoors, working with our hands, out of an office, and out of debt?” Hall asks.

Maybe if more people start asking that question, and reimagining what opportunity looks like, we’d all be better off.