Just recently, I attended a graduation awards ceremony for the construction management and technology department of a large university. I had the honor of saying a few words to the students, their family members and faculty, and then introducing the keynote speaker. This ceremony included a dinner, and I was seated at the head table with the speaker, the department dean and his wife, a faculty department head, and two graduating seniors who were the top students in their programs.
With all that brain power sitting at one table, it made for great dinner conversation. However, maybe one of the most interesting people at our table was a young man who was in attendance only because his fiancée was one of the top students being honored.
In the course of our conversation, I asked this young man what he did for a living. He responded, “I am a welder.”
My immediate response to him, which everyone at our table heard, was “you are probably making more money than anyone else sitting at this table.” Knowing the construction and the manufacturing industry as well as I do, and the pay scales offered for accomplished welders, I was not joking.
This young man went on to share that he had received his Associate Degree in welding technology and then his welding certification, a certification which is extremely difficult to achieve. He told us he had won numerous awards on the state level in welding competitions, and now works for a firm that specializes in complex equipment used in the manufacturing industry. He had also just bought his first house, after realizing he could make a mortgage payment for roughly the same amount as apartment rent.
At most, this young man was 27 years old.
I am a big believer in a college education for a number of reasons. It prepares one for life, it demonstrates a level of discipline, and it is certainly important for the start and growth of a career. However, the idea that everyone needs to go through the traditional four-year college route to be successful is simply not true. What is true is the importance of education. Often times, education comes in the form of vocational training, which can offer equally challenging careers, excellent pay, and a virtual guarantee of a life time of employment.
Most communities offer vocational education through community colleges or state-sponsored technical programs. These educational opportunities are affordable, typically offer flexible hours, and feature excellent instructors well-versed in their trades. As the construction industry continues to experience a robust economy coupled with significant labor shortages, the value of individuals with a vocational education in skilled trades will continue to increase. Furthermore, general contractors and subcontractors will find it both smart and beneficial to seek out these programs and support their efforts.
I would be interested to follow this young welder’s career. He was smart, articulate, and ambitious. Twenty years from now he may still be welding, or he may be doing something different, but whatever he is doing, I see success, which ultimately started with his vocational education and training.