If your daughter or son could get a job without going to college and earn a starting salary of over $50,000, would you want to know more about the opportunity?

Most parents would say yes―but many parents are actually saying no.

College Costs Continue to Rise

For years, high school graduates have been bombarded with parental encouragement to "go to college." But a bachelor's degree doesn't come cheap. Every year, the costs of attending college increase, leaving students with hefty piles of debt that take years if not decades to repay.

Though parents may point to studies that indicate higher levels of employment and elevated pay rates for college graduates, students must first take out loans or figure out how to pay for higher education―and then actually complete their degrees―before they are even eligible to apply to such jobs.

Beyond the cost, many students struggle to make it through rigorous collegiate academics. According to a report by the National Student Clearinghouse, three out of every 10 high school graduates who head off to public institutions are still degree-less six years later.

Private institutions fare only a little better. And students who do manage to graduate may still face post-graduation challenges: less than a third of all graduates actually put their major to work. Meanwhile, high-paying jobs which require training that's both shorter and less costly than college education are going unfilled.

Those with Trade Skills, Please Stand Up

While skilled labor has long been considered more dangerous than working in office environments, technology is breaking the stigma as machinery becomes more streamlined and sophisticated. Compared with desk jobs, skilled trade jobs do have some inherent dangers due to the use of heavy machinery, but by following safety rules and regulations, such risks can be easily mitigated. And with growing incidences of repetitive motion injuries (like carpal tunnel syndrome) stemming from long hours of computer work and increasing evidence that sitting for eight hours a day may be as bad for our health as smoking, there's some question as to whether desk jobs simply come with different inherent dangers.

With studies showing nearly 70 percent of employers are open to considering non-degreed candidates who are the right fit, and with governmental support for expanding Pell grants to include training courses and certifications, not just college tuition, the playing field for skilled trades professionals is leveling while demand rises.

The Associated General Contractors of America reported last year that 70 percent of construction companies across the U.S. faced a shortage of qualified workers, and other trades are facing similar challenges despite offering good pay. There are currently around 30 million jobs in the U.S. offering average salaries of $55,000 to workers without bachelor's degrees, and the need for skilled trade professionals continues to expand as an aging blue-collar workforce retires.

How is Virginia Impacted?

So, what's the demand for high-paid skilled trade workers in Virginia? With job sites like Indeed showcasing listings for electricians, plumbers, and skilled construction jobs with salaries of $55,000 to well over $100,000, prospects for skilled trades workers in Virginia are promising. Just last year, the Virginia Manufacturers' Association reported that available workers only met 44 percent of Virginia manufacturers' needs, indicating the skilled trades gap that our country is experiencing is also present in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Furthermore, Lowe's Companies, Inc. has recently stepped up to the plate by launching a new pre-apprenticeship program for employees that offers upfront tuition, academic coaching, and post-program placement opportunities. They hope their Track for Trades program will make skilled trades jobs more accessible and appealing, thus helping to bridge the skilled trades gap. The program has already launched as a pilot in four cities including Richmond, and Lowe's plans to roll out the initiative nationwide by the end of 2018.

While there's certainly still value in a college education, thanks to a combination of skyrocketing college costs, variable graduation rates, and an abundance of high-paying skilled trades positions to choose from, the trades are undoubtedly gaining ground and are a career track worth strong consideration by young adults and those thinking about changing their occupation.

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