Picking a Path: A look at career choices for 2018 high school graduates

HOUSTON - Blue collars or white collars? For students graduating in 2018 to find that almighty dollar, what makes the most sense when planning for the future?

To come anywhere near the American dream, a high school diploma is probably only the beginning.

“Some sort of post-secondary education or training is more important than it ever has before [...] over 70% of all new jobs will require some form of post-secondary credential,” HISD Officer for College and Career Readiness Rick Cruz said.

For nearly all of their lives, this generation has been told that getting a college degree is the only option in securing a career.

“One of my biggest pet peeves is when an educator, a counselor or anyone else, tells a student ‘this is what you have to do, this is your only option.’ That shouldn't be our job. We're here to expand opportunities make sure that kids and their families know about everything that's out there. And regardless of what they choose, we're going to honor and respect their decision and we're going to help them pursue it,” Cruz said.

Problem is, with more and more baby boomers retiring every year from skilled trades, like plumber or auto technician, and far fewer high school grads raising their hands to fill those positions, America is headed for a crisis.

“Our employers every day are searching for more and more graduates that we don't have enough to provide them,” President Darrin Brust at Universal Technical Institute Houston Campus said.

“We need the guys," PlumCo plumber Gary Bloch said. "We're having a hard time keeping up with licensed plumbers, there's a shortage in Houston."

And the effects that's having on wages for these careers is just simple economics.

“There's not enough supply, demand is high, typically what's happening is they're being more and more competitive for those graduates so pay goes up,” Brust said.

“Those skills are something that literally you can go anywhere in the country and raise your hand as a skilled technician and you'll find employment relatively quick,” Service Director Chris Jones at BMW of Houston North said.

Comparing wages for that first gig is impossible. Mostly because pay will vary so wildly with 4-year degrees.  S.T.E.M. degrees are generally going to pay higher.  But, those graduating with a liberal arts degree might actually make less than their trade school graduate counterparts.

Then there's debt. The average 4-year degree, in tuition and fees, will run anywhere from $38,000 at a public in-state university, to $139,000 at a private college.  The average 2-year degree from a trade school in the U.S. is $33,000.

The difference in debt can be huge— something that definitely went into the decision for students we asked at Universal Technical Institute.

“I looked at 4-year colleges [...] the job market was there, but when student debt comes into it," James Davis said. "You're looking at 100 plus thousand to pay off over what, 20 years or so?”

“A lot of people in college are taking their basics right now and they're not even sure what they're going to do yet, and a lot of people they graduate college and still find out they want to do something else.  So I’m very grateful that I made up my mind right now, and I’m doing what I want to right now,” student Daniel Andrews said.

For other students, taking on an apprenticeship— that next step in education won't be in a classroom.

“It's on the job training [...] It's not like college, where you're out of a bunch of money," Bloch said. "Your hours start getting accrued, and you actually get paid to learn how to do the trade.  A lot of the plumbing is getting easier every day, but we still need somebody to actually do the job. It can't have a computer or anything, you actually have to go to the house and actually take care of the problem itself.”

No matter which path you take, for high school seniors, an education shouldn't end with the walk across the stage in May. Because, for many, that second walk feels so much sweeter.

“Every three weeks we have new students, but every three weeks we have a graduation. So what's really cool is every three weeks, we get reinforced by watching those graduates walk across the stage on their way into that career field,” Brust said.