California; Hayward — The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) has ignited discussions about its potential impact on white-collar jobs and knowledge workers. Surprisingly, even the creative industry, previously considered immune to AI's influence, is now experiencing the impact of non-sentient machines. With younger generations planning their higher education and career paths, the pressing question arises about which professions and skill sets can withstand the inevitable changes brought about by the next industrial revolution.
According to Fagen Wassani, there is a decline in the number of high school graduates aged 16 to 24 enrolling in traditional college education. Several factors contribute to this trend, including economic anxiety, burdensome student loans, remote learning experiences during the pandemic, and shifting perspectives on the value of a degree. As a result, some members of Gen Z are turning away from the conventional higher education path and exploring alternative options like trade schools and apprenticeships.
Trade jobs have long been considered backup options for those who couldn't pursue a four-year degree. However, there are significant financial benefits to working in the skilled trades, such as lower training costs and the potential to enter the workforce with little to no student debt. Professions like electricians, chefs, commercial drivers, and telecommunications equipment technicians offer affordable training compared to traditional bachelor's degree programs.
To address labor gaps and promote opportunities in trade careers, certain cities and states are investing in free or subsidized training programs. For instance, New York City offers access to training in cable installation, medical billing, food services, and construction. Government-backed tools like Apprenticeship Finder also assist individuals in finding suitable apprenticeship opportunities. Furthermore, grants, loans, and scholarships are available to support those pursuing trade careers.
While some fields may require a college degree for specialization, there are numerous trade jobs that provide competitive incomes and ample room for growth. Learning a trade can position individuals to own their businesses, ascend to managerial roles, and stay relevant in their industries with lower costs for staying updated with advancements.
Higher education undoubtedly retains its value, particularly in specialized fields like healthcare. However, the return on investment for a college degree is often oversimplified, and factors like student debt must be taken into account. It is true that statistics show individuals without a bachelor's degree tend to earn less on average, but there are well-paying trade jobs that offer salaries comparable to those of bachelor's degree holders, all while carrying less debt.
As conversations continue regarding how to prepare for AI's influence, it is paramount to consider alternative paths, such as trade and vocational education. These options can provide stability and open doors for the younger generations to explore diverse career paths that may be more resilient to the encroachment of AI, at least for the foreseeable future.
Noumaan Faiz, (he/him) is a journalist and entertainer from Hayward, CA who covers culture and entertainment.
Edited by Nykeya Woods