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Welding jobs are predicted to grow at least at an average rate through 2026, have a median pay rate of about $20/hour, and are a solid career path for women as well as men. (Annette Tait/Special to Agweek)

There's no shame in old-school careers

If you have a high school junior, the pressure is on. All the "what will you do after high school" talk is leading to ACT and SAT (college admissions) tests, college applications, and so on and so forth. But is "what they say" really true?

For years there's been a push for students to go to college. And for some, that's exactly the right choice. But not for everyone.

The message that "you have to go to college to get a good job" is misleading. Sure, there are professions that require a college education — and sometimes more. And, statistically, college graduates do earn higher wages, particularly at first, than workers who don't have a four-year degree.

But there's also a flip side. College graduates also have the burden of student loans, which subtract a hefty monthly payment from those earnings for many years after they graduate. And graduates who were steered into a career field solely by the potential earning power may have trouble finding work because there are more candidates than there are jobs.

And that doesn't begin to address students who aren't suited to the requirements of a four-year degree and/or who are just plain miserable studying subjects they have no interest in. Some manage to struggle through, others drop out and still find themselves dealing with the burden of tuition for part of a degree program they didn't finish.

Which brings us to those old-school careers — and, to be realistic, some new ones, too. Career and technical training offers another route to well-paid jobs — a route that, in most cases, takes less time and costs less money. Plus — companies can't outsource boots-on-the-ground professions.

Think about it. Electricians, welders, mechanics, technicians (to name just a few) — all the people who fix things when they're broken, maintain them when they're working, and help build new construction and new systems when they're needed. And these are great professions for people who like to be hands-on.

Even better, these careers are in demand. The baby boomers who work in these professions are retiring, leaving more than 60% of companies struggling to fill trade jobs. According to the General Contractors of America, 74% of firms predict a shortfall of trade workers, with estimates as high as 31 million unfilled jobs. That's a LOT of jobs!

And, just as the ag industry has morphed and grown over the years — it's not just production ag anymore, right?—skilled trades continue to develop as well. The technology side of these trades has led to a whole new set of skills and associated jobs that help keep systems running.

Students can even start learning some of these skill sets while still in high school, through career and technical education classes. Kids who go into trade programs after they graduate may still find themselves studying at a college, but usually for only a year or two (some programs don't even take that long). And the cost is significantly less, averaging about one-third to one-fourth the cost of the average four-year degree program.

What we're trying to say is this: one size doesn't fit all. College and the careers it can lead to work great for some, but not for others—also a true statement for following the career and technical training path.

Encourage your kids to explore all the options. We need reliable electrical workers, mechanics, plumbers, and welders just as much as we need doctors, bankers, accountants and engineers. We're all cogs in the great big overall machine — a machine that won't work if it doesn't have all the parts.