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How Gen Z Is Becoming the Toolbelt Generation /lifestyle/careers/gen-z-trades-jobs-plumbing-welding-a76b5e43

More young workers are going into trades as disenchantment with the college track continues, and rising pay and new technologies shine up plumbing and electrical jobs

America needs more plumbers, and Gen Z is answering the call.

Long beset by a labor crunch, the skilled trades are newly appealing to the youngest cohort of American workers, many of whom are choosing to leave the college path. Rising pay and new technologies in fields from welding to machine tooling are giving trade professions a face-lift, helping them shed the image of being dirty, low-end work. Growing skepticism about the return on a college education, the cost of which has soared in recent decades, is adding to their shine.

Enrollment in vocational training programs is surging as overall enrollment in community colleges and four-year institutions has fallen. The number of students enrolled in vocational-focused community colleges rose 16% last year to its highest level since the National Student Clearinghouse began tracking such data in 2018. The ranks of students studying construction trades rose 23% during that time, while those in programs covering HVAC and vehicle maintenance and repair increased 7%.

“It’s a really smart route for kids who want to find something and aren’t gung ho on going to college,” says Tanner Burgess, 20, who graduated from a nine-month welding program last fall.

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