Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, more than 1 million students have decided not to go to college and opted to work instead.
Data from the National Student Clearinghouse show how community college enrollment shifted during the pandemic. The percent change in community college enrollment from 2019 to 2021 fell for associate degree programs such as business, social sciences and communications. However, construction trades grew 5% and architecture and related services grew 4%.
A September 2021 survey by the Associated General Contractors of America found 89% of contractors were having a difficult time finding workers who were trained for the job. Sixty-one percent of contractors reported project delays because of workforce shortages.
Tony Chaffin, leader of the construction program at Texas State Technical College, says the demand for workers is “huge.”
“We have contractors calling us weekly: ‘Do you have anybody that can work?’” he says. “I mean, they just want people.”
AGC says investing in skilled trades programs is crucial for addressing the shortage of qualified workers.
“The federal government only spends $1 on career training for every $6 it puts into college prep,” says AGC CEO Steve Sandherr. “This funding gap for career training is one of the main reasons so many contractors have a low opinion of the current pipeline for preparing new craft and construction professionals.”
Many prospective students are rethinking the value of college. For some students, graduating from a skilled-trades program could mean securing a high-paying job without taking on too much debt. A study from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce shows an increasing number of people without a bachelor’s degree are outearning their four-year college peers.