student interested in skilled trade

Skilled Trades versus Tech Careers: Which Is Right for You?

student interested in skilled trade

“Truck drivers are in perilously low supply, Silicon Valley continues to struggle to fill vacancies, and employers across the grid are coping with a skills mismatch as the economy edges ever closer to full employment.” -Jeff Cox, CNBC reporter.[1]

This excerpt from a CNBC article published last July highlights three issues that should be especially relevant to anyone looking for an occupation with healthy job prospects:

  1. U.S. employers are struggling to find workers with the right skills.
  2. Skilled tradespeople are among those highly sought-after workers.
  3. Technology workers are also in short supply.

Now you know that skilled trades and tech skills are needed in the job market, but which career path would be best for you?

Comparing the training requirements, time, costs, job growth and pay of positions in these two fields can help you get a better idea of which route to go. Read on for more details about pursuing skilled trades versus tech careers.

Skilled Labor Shortage Could Mean Job Opportunities for Trained Workers

How severe is the skilled labor shortage? Globally, 45 percent of employers find it difficult to fill skilled positions. In the U.S., the problem is slightly worse, with 46 percent of employers reporting that workers with the right skills are hard to come by, according to the ManpowerGroup.

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Skilled Trades Shortage

What are the most difficult positions to fill out of all occupations around the world and specifically in the U.S.? Skilled trades. This is the 6th consecutive year employers say they can’t find enough qualified skilled trades men and women.

Technology Skills Gap

IT jobs rank 6th globally among the most challenging positions to fill. In the U.S., 65 percent of IT companies report skills shortages, indicates the CIO Survey 2018 by Harvey Nash and KPMG.

Labor shortages in the skilled trades and tech sectors present job opportunities for those with the right skills. How do you learn these skills? Training is one way.

Career and Technical Education: A Solution

“Career and technical education has risen on the educational radar in the past decade, transforming itself from a college alternative into a new kind of college pathway.” -Catherine Gewertz, Education Week

Career and technical education (CTE) is a form of education where students receive hands-on instruction in the skills needed for a specific career, such as HVAC training.[2]

However, arguments against the ethics of CTE resulted in “a ‘college for all’ movement that urged all students to attend four-year institutions” in recent decades. But many college students—about half, in fact—never complete their bachelor’s degrees.

The push for college also contributed to the skills gap, as fewer and fewer young workers chose career and technical education.[3]

Now with the national student debt crisis and the skilled labor shortage, CTE is reemerging as a promising option, and it is offered in many forms at the high school and post-secondary level.[4]

Skilled Trades Training Versus Technical Training

student learning skilled trade

At the post-secondary level, trade school is one way to prepare for a career in the skilled trades.[5] If you want to land a job in the tech sector, there are community colleges, technology boot camps and traditional colleges and universities.[6][7]

Let’s compare the training requirements for a skilled trades occupation and a tech career: an HVAC technician versus a computer support specialist.

HVAC Tech vs. Computer Support Specialist Career Prep Comparison

Career Prep Comparison HVAC Technician Computer Support Specialist
Training requirements Employers Generally Prefer an HVAC certificate or associate Degree Requirements vary: Computer classes, associate degree or bachelor’s degree
Type of School Trade school Community College or university
Training Time 6 months to 2 years 2 years to 4 years or more
Training Cost Trade School: $3,000 to $15,000 a Year $20,864 to $104,480 or more
Certification Requirements Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Section 608 Technician Certification to work with refrigerants

Industry HVAC Certifications can improve career opportunities

Certifications in the products employers use sometimes required

Comparing Skilled Trades and Tech Careers

As you can see, the route to a skilled trades job can be different to that of a tech career when it comes to training time, costs and credentialing requirements.

But what about the careers waiting on the other side of training? What can one expect in terms of projected job growth, earnings, career advancement opportunities and work environments?

Let’s look at how a career as an HVAC technician stacks up against one as a computer support specialist.

HVAC Tech vs. Computer Support Specialist Career Comparison

Career Comparison HVAC Technician Computer Support Specialist
Projected job growth through 2026 15 percent (much faster than average) 11 percent (faster than average)[8]
Average Annual Salary $50,160[9] $55,050[10]
Career Advancement Opportunities Service and repair technical manager, field manager, project manager, distribution manager[11] Network and computer systems administrators, software developers[12]
Work Environment Indoors and outdoors, daily travel and variety, active work[13][14] Office or telecommute, night and weekend work common, sedentary work[15]

Skilled Trades vs. Tech Careers: Weighing Your Options

Now you have an idea of the factors to consider when deciding between a career in the skilled trades or technology sector or any industry, for that matter. While this article provided two specific examples, you can research other careers in these fields on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website.

While you weigh your options, you may want to delve deeper into trade school vs college, as there are important pros and cons to consider for each educational path.

Additional Sources