Skilled Trades Drawing Gen Z’s Interest

June 1, 2024

Members of Generation Z are increasingly skeptical of the value of a college degree, given the rising cost of tuition, and instead are giving trades such as plumbing and welding serious consideration.

Good pay and job security—plus the opportunity to learn tech skills, such as robotics in some fields—are making occupations in vocational fields an attractive alternative to college and its ensuing debt. Additionally, some members of Generation Z are “drawn to the skilled trades because of their entrepreneurial potential,” The Wall Street Journal reported April 1.1

Vocational training program enrollment “is surging as overall enrollment in community colleges and four-year institutions has fallen,” the publication noted.

And if trade skills can be attained through an apprenticeship program that allows the student to learn while they earn and get hired full time by the employer when the apprenticeship is successfully completed, even better.

A 2023 survey commissioned by Jobber2 found that high-school-age and college-age respondents said they thought blue-collar jobs offered better job security than white-collar ones, given the growth of artificial intelligence.3 Jobber is based in Edmonton, Alberta, and helps small and midsize service businesses with invoicing, logging hours, and other tasks.

“It’s no surprise we’re seeing more young people pursuing these fields today,” said Kelcie Wong, interim Vice President of Training Programs at career training nonprofit JVS, based in San Francisco, California.

Vocational training is a pathway for many young job seekers to a career, she noted, that “offers room for advancement, family-sustaining wages, and stability without the significant student debt burden often required for a four-year degree.”

“With interest in these types of careers heating up, young people should focus on how they can differentiate themselves from the competition,” Wong advised. Despite the increasing use of AI and automation, “employers are looking for candidates with good interpersonal communication, teamwork, and problem-solving skills,” she said, citing a JVS and Jobs for the Future analysis of the job market4 for the skilled trades and health-care sectors.

SHRM Online collected the following articles on apprenticeship programs and Generation Z’s growing interest in vocational occupations.

How Gen Z Is Becoming the Toolbelt Generation

America needs more plumbers, and Gen Z is answering the call.

Long beset by a labor crunch, the skilled trades are newly appealing to the youngest cohort of U.S. workers, many of whom are choosing to leave the college path. Rising pay and new technologies in fields such as welding and machine tooling are giving trade professions a facelift, helping them shed the image held by some of being dirty, low-end work. Growing skepticism about the return on a college education,5 the cost of which has soared in recent decades, is adding to their shine.

The Future of Work Needs More Apprentices6

It is no secret that Gen Z is shaking up the established education-to-career pathways system,7 with college enrollment down and young learners skeptical of the cost-versus benefit of a 4-year degree. But neither the K–12 and postsecondary, or the workforce systems, have gone all-in on promoting apprenticeship as a viable alternative. A recent survey8 by Jobs for the Future and American Student Assistance found that nearly two in three high-school graduates not attending college said they would have considered programs like industry certifications, occupation licenses, and apprenticeships if they knew more about them. They also noted that schools are not offering information about non-degree pathways to the same extent as they are about 4-year degrees.

Why Gen Z Can Solve the Skilled Labor Shortage Crisis9

Many young people have been taught to pursue college over vocational school. But now more members of Gen Z are recognizing the potential of a career in the skilled trades.

Report: Apprenticeships, Career Pathways Can Fill Talent Pipeline

The lack of a college degree, regardless of the worker’s skill, may be holding U.S. workers back, or they may not have had a chance to acquire additional skills within their existing job that would allow them to advance. In Untapped Potential: How New Apprenticeship Approaches Will Increase Access to Economic Opportunity,10 Multiverse and The Burning Glass Institute advocate for applying new apprenticeship models to the U.S. labor market.

An Uncommon Pathway to Education and Employment

In an ever-evolving landscape where skills and experience are valued as much as academic degrees, apprenticeship programs have emerged as a game-changing solution. These programs are not only transforming the way we prepare the workforce of tomorrow, but also offering a compelling alternative to traditional college degrees.

Why Americans Have Lost Faith in the Value of College

In the past decade, the percentage of Americans who expressed a lot of confidence in higher education fell from 57% to 36%, according to Gallup.11 A decline in undergraduate enrollment since 2011 has translated into 3 million fewer students on campus. Nearly half of parents say they would prefer not to send their children to a 4-year college after high school,12 even if there were no obstacles, financial or otherwise. Two-thirds of high-school students think they will be just fine without a college degree.

1. Te-Ping Chen, “How Gen Z Is Becoming the Toolbelt Generation,” The Wall Street Journal, April 1, 2024 (
2. Jobber’s Blue-Color Report–Gen Z and the Uncertain Future of the Trades (
3. Ray A. Smith, “AI Is Starting to Threaten White-Collar Jobs. Few Industries Are Immune.” The Wall Street Journal, February 12, 2024 (
4. Alison Schmitt, Alessandro Conway, Dylan Ruggles, Devon Miner, Bekka Rosenbaum, and Regina Anders-Jefferson, “How Employers Can Prepare Workers for an AI-Driven Economy,” JVS and Jobs for the Future, March 28, 2024 (
5. Douglas Belkin, “Why Americans Have Lost Faith in the Value of College,” The Wall Street Journal, January 19, 2024 (
6. Maria Flynn, “The Future of Work Needs More Apprentices,” Forbes, November 14, 2023 (
7. Joshua Bay, “Gen Z’s Declining College Interest Persists—Even Among Middle Schoolers,” The 74, August 24, 2023 (
8. Success, Redefined – How Nondegree Pathways Empower Youth to Chart Their Own Course to Confidence, Employability, and Financial Freedom, Jobs for the Future and American Student Assistance, updated 16/10/2023 (
9. Mark C. Perna, “Why Gen Z Can Solve the Skilled Labor Shortage Crisis,” Forbes, October 17, 2023 (
10. Matt Sigelman and Euan Blair, Untapped Potential: How New Apprenticeship Approaches Will Increase Access to Economic Opportunity, The Burning Glass Institute and Multiverse, November 2023 (
11. Megan Brenan, “Americans’ Confidence in Higher Education Down Sharply,” Gallup, July 11, 2023 (
12. Jill Barshay, “Poll: Nearly half of parents don’t want their kids to go straight to a four-year college,” The Hechinger Report, April 7, 2021 (