College Guide


June 16, 2010 10:00 AM Second Chances

By Daniel Luzer


Apparently the continuing recession is causing some college graduates to flock to jobs as skilled laborers. According to an article by Carol Morello in the Washington Post:

In a region in which 47 percent of Washington area residents have a college degree, the highest rate in the nation, [Adam] Osielski is among a… growing number of the college-educated who are taking up the trades.
They started out studying aerospace engineering, creative writing and urban planning. But somewhere on the path to accumulating academic credentials, they decided that working with their hands sounded more pleasant — and lucrative — than a lot of white-collar work. So bye-bye to term papers and graduate theses, and hello to apprenticeships to become plumbers, electricians, auto mechanics and carpenters.

Osielski, who has a bachelor’s degree in theology from Notre Dame, is an electrician. He apparently finds the job more satisfying than he thinks he would find professional employment. He might also be able to make more money. A journeyman electrician can make up to $85,000 a year.

The article is pretty skimpy on actual evidence. While apparently local apprentice programs have a lot of new applicants in this economy (an apprentice program run by the electricians’ union has 2,500 applications for 100 slots; it’s more selective than Princeton) it’s hard to tell who among them finished college. Or if there are more now than there used to be.

Interestingly enough, however, Americans only come to apprenticeship programs later in life. The average American begins an apprentice program at age 25. In Germany people begin such programs, on average, at 18. [Image via]

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer


  • nat on June 16, 2010 8:33 PM:

    Not surprising, really. The surprising part is that we have such a bias against these jobs as the same time as we talk about the "real America."

    And of course, you've read this:

  • clem on June 17, 2010 5:14 AM:

    It must be three or four years ago that a guy on NPR was talking about the fact a college education did not pay for itself for most graduates. Yes, if you're going to be an md or atty, yes. But to get a general BA or general MS, you don't make back the money spent. Forgot the speakers name but he had thoroughly researched this.

    He noted that the trades pay VERY well. Electricians, plumbers, you name it make good livings. The biggest house on our block belongs to a plumber.

    This was BEFORE the recession/depression.

    A lot of middle class parents just frown on this, I guess, but I don't know why.

    It is so rare to find anybody good at what they do these days, from high to low...