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Careers Without a College Degree

Drawn to competitive wages, benefits, and on-site learning opportunities, more people are choosing to start a career in the trades right after high school. Careers Without a College Degree. 

With the soaring costs of college tuition, higher interest rates, and less job security, earning an associate’s or bachelor’s degree is not the path of choice it once was. Careers that start in the trades have steadily increased in popularity as more people look to start a career without accumulating tuition debt.

According to data released by the National Student Clearinghouse, the number of undergraduates enrolled in colleges has dropped by nearly 1.4 million students since 2019 — and it’s not completely pandemic related. Many students choose to earn a lucrative wage rather than incur college debt, especially when starting salaries after graduation are not guaranteed to help cover the cost of obtaining a degree.

What are the trades?

Contractors, electricians, masons, or anyone in a trade position have full schedules and can’t hire enough workers to meet the demand. In particular, the sheet metal and HVAC trade could not be busier, leading to more job openings than ever before.

Benefits of a career in the trades

The sheet metal trade, along with other specialty trades that offer registered apprenticeship programs, allow students to “earn while they learn.” According to trade data, apprentices in the sheet metal industry earn wages that, on average, total approximately $250,000 over the course of their five years as an apprentice.

Upon graduation, an apprentice enters the field as a journeyperson earning a higher wage and a generous benefits package with healthcare and a retirement pension. A study by The Ohio State University reports that within six to nine years after entry into a registered apprenticeship program, apprentices earn 38% more than their peers with similar educational backgrounds but little or no training.

To help those interested in joining the sheet metal industry, the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA) created the website The site provides information about the trade, the different career paths, and how to get started in the industry while helping connect individuals to local job resources.

From lucrative wages to generous benefits, including work/life balance, healthcare, and a retirement pension, a career path in the trades can offer amazing career opportunities. (Wages and apprenticeship length of time can vary by local area.)

Shaping Future Careers Without a College Degree – Business and Tech (

Jeff Henriksen

Executive Director of Communications and Marketing, Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA)


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