Lehigh Valley

Trading a college degree for a career in the trades

More high schoolers are choosing a tech education

N. WHITEHALL TWP., Pa. - Looking for a career, but don't want to go for a four-year degree? Many high schoolers are shucking the college experience and it's paying off big.

The sanding, hammering and scraping taught at Lehigh Career Technical Institute in Schnecksville are a means toward building a successful career without a four-year degree. About 2,400 students from nine school districts learn the often times messy process in 41 different labs.

Kurt Adams is LCTI's director of career and technical education.

"Skilled labor force is so low right now because parents are retiring," Adams said. "They're not doing it anymore."

Nationally, manufacturing jobs peaked in 1979 at just under 20 million. Today, there are about 12.5 million.

Adams says the market in the Lehigh Valley is red hot, but with a cold twist for employers.

"There are more jobs out there today than kids going into the profession," he said.

Adams said he can almost guarantee students a job after graduation with salaries of up to $60,000 per year.

It's what 15-year-old Paige Knowles is counting on. The Parkland High School sophomore plans to bypass college and become a plumber to go along with a future in real estate.

"A lot of people judge me and say, 'A girl with straights A's, why are you in tech? It's for stupid kids,'" she said.

But those so-called stupid kids may be making a very smart financial decision.

Take 21-year old Nate Snyder. After graduating from LCTI, he skipped college and the loans that go with it to get a job with medical device company, B. Braun in Bethlehem.

"I felt there was more an opportunity with the trades," he said. "I was able to buy a brand new car."

Snyder is also going to school to be an engineer paid for by B Braun.

Rex Boland, vice president and general manager of B. Braun, said the need for qualified tradesman in the Lehigh Valley is "huge."

The company, which employs 2,000 in the Lehigh Valley, relies on trade schools to help fill their personnel void, Boland said. The company has 30 to 35 positions open right now, he added.


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