In Defense of Vocational Education and Trades: The Shocking Truth!

An article by Richard James Rogers (Award-Winning Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback)This blog post is illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati.

I thought I was doing the right thing when I decided to go to university at age 19.

Almost everybody encouraged me.

Only one person (an old friend) told me that it was a probably a financially stupid idea.

In fact, my school’s careers’ counsellors told me that graduates earn more, on average, than non-graduates. I was also given a few lessons on how to write a CV. Oh, and as a nice bonus, there was a section in the library where I could look up job profiles and career pathways.

That was where my careers’ guidance ended.

What I really needed to hear was the blunt truth: that I would amass a huge amount of debt, and at the end of it all a mediocre salary would be waiting for me. I needed to hear that a master’s degree would open many more doors for me than just a simple bachelor’s. I needed to hear that the reputation of the university I would go to would be one of the first things an employer would notice – and a top tier university, regardless of teaching quality or departmental reputation, would look amazing on my CV.

Basically, what I should have been told (multiple times), is that if I’m going to decide to rack-up student-loan debt of up to £15,000, which I’ll probably be paying-off well into my forties, then I’d better make damn sure that I go to a top-ten, world-class university, and that I get a first class or 2:1 degree.

Nobody told me that.

I also should have been told that I didn’t need to go to university, or get into debt, to earn good money (in many cases higher than that of graduates).

Training to be on-track (pun intended)

Imagine my disdain when I recently found out that the average train driver in the UK earns almost double what the average teacher does:

  • In 2020, the average UK train driver earned £57,323 per year
  • According to Prospects UK, the average UK Qualified teacher earned £35,608.50 in 2021 (I’ve taken the average for every UK region, and calculated an average of the averages).

Wow! No student loan debt and no four years of extra study, and as a train driver I’ll be earning more than the average UK teacher does. I think I would have liked to have known that back when I was in high school.

Whilst, of course, money is not the only factor to consider when choosing a career path (train drivers can work very unfavorable hours and do not enjoy as many holidays as teachers do, for example), it is still a pretty important point of information to consider.

Here are some other career paths that do not require a bachelor’s degree, but pay really good salaries (data courtesy of Ramsey Solutions – I’ve taken the US salaries and converted them to the GBP equivalent using the exchange rate at the time of writing):

  • Air Traffic Controller: $130,420/£105,693 per year
  • Elevator Installer and Repairer: $88,540/£71,753 per year
  • Nuclear Technician: $84,190/£68,228 per year
  • Web Developer: $77,200/£62,563 per year
  • Dental Hygienist: $77,090/£62,717 per year
  • Diagnostic Medical Sonographer: $70,380/£57,036 per year
  • Aerospace Technician: $68,570/£55,570 per year
  • Police Officers and Detectives: $67,290/£54,532 per year
  • Wholesale and Manufacturing Sales Representatives: $65,420/£53,017 per year
  • Radiologic and MRI Technologists: $63,710/£51,631 per year
  • Executive Assistant: $63,110/£51,145 per year
  • Occupational Therapy Assistant: $60,950/£46,394 per year
  • Electrician: $56,900/£46,112 per year
  • Plumber: $56,330/£45,650 per year
  • Wind Turbine Technician: $56,230/£45,569 per year
  • Hearing Aid Specialist: $52,630/£42,652 per year
  • Firefighter: $52,500/£42,546 per year
  • Sheet Metal Worker: $51,370/£41,631 per year
  • Real Estate Agent: $51,220/£41,509 per year
  • Surgical Technologist: $49,710/£40,285 per year
  • Carpenter: $49,520/£40,131 per year
  • Licensed Practical Nurse: $48,820/£39,564 per year
  • Masonry Worker: $47,710/£38,664 per year
  • Sound Engineering Technician: $47,420/£38,429 per year
  • Solar Photovoltaic Installer: $46,470/£37,659 per year

At least I can glean one nugget of solace from my life-choices: I ONLY acquired £15,000 of debt to become a fully qualified teacher. The average student graduating in the UK in 2021 amassed £28,121 of personal student loan debt. In America, the number stood at $37,113.

Conclusion

Careers’ guidance counsellors – start telling high school students the TRUTH – that if they go to university they’ll probably amass a mountain of debt that they’ll be paying off for decades, whilst probably not earning that much money afterwards. Tell them that there’s ANOTHER WAY – that there are jobs that do not require such a massive monetary and time-investment, but which pay a lot!

A question I pose to today’s trainee teachers is a bleak one: Was it worth getting into around £28,121 of debt, just to one day earn an average salary of £35,608.50?

The answer to that question will depend on many factors. Just remember, however: the average Elevator Installer and Repairer is probably earning more than double what you are!

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Author:

High School Science and Mathematics Teacher, Author and Blogger. Graduated from Bangor University with a BSc (Hons) degree in Molecular Biology and a PGCE in Secondary Science Education. Richard also holds the coveted Certificate in Mathematics from the Open University (UK).

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