Wednesday, 17 April 2024

D'Adamo: Trade schools and college degrees are equally important

Vincent D'Adamo. Courtesy photo.

There are polarizing debates where you can identify with both sides that also expose how too many discussions are a zero-sum game.

It’s either one or the other. It’s either black or white. In the process, the various shades of gray are an oversight.

The clearly defined starting point is ambiguous but a meme has circulated on social media saying, and I’m paraphrasing, “Please emphasize trade schools with the same passion as you emphasize college degrees.”

Count me among those who believe that one is no more or less important than the other.

The two extremes in thought are: a) Segments of the “pro college degree” crowd look down at those in trade fields because of their lack of education beyond high school; b) segments of the “pro-trade school” crowd conversely show their inferiority complex by disparaging those with college degrees.

I speak from experience but it is equally true that there are those working at construction sites that would not survive a day on a college campus and there are those on college campuses that would not survive a day in a blue collar environment.

Before I go into facts, figures, beliefs, etc. I want to lay the groundwork for my perspective because I believe I can offer one that many cannot.

I am a 49-year-old first-generation American with both parents' families coming to the United States from Italy. My father was a service station owner from 1965-2002, in Napa before handing the reins to my brother, Michael D’Adamo.

I worked for my dad around my school and sports schedule, even before high school and into my college years. Pumping gas and changing tires, I learned the value of hard work and having a good work ethic.

My parents, who came to the country in 1948 (father) and 1954 (mother), spoke no English and emphasized strongly to me and all of my siblings to go to college because it was an opportunity they never had but wished they could fulfill.

I remember my father telling me one day, “The average guy with a high school diploma makes $5 an hour. The average guy with a college degree makes $18 an hour.” Mind you, this advice came in the mid-1980s if you are mystified by the hourly wages.

That aforementioned advice swayed me to go to college along with seeing one of my sisters (Annette), who is eight years older than me, get passed over for a promotion because she did not have a college degree. My sister, who was in her early 20s, then decided to attain her four-year degree, which she did at age 25.

Years later (1997), I received my Bachelor of Arts degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Nebraska. I worked briefly in broadcasting but went on to become a sports reporter in the newspaper industry for 18 years.

I exited the industry in December 2014 but transitioned my career change by getting my CDL Class B driver’s license in October 2012. I had the opportunity to work part-time as a bus driver for two years before getting my full-time opportunity with Alhambra Water.

My experience brings another layer to the college degree versus trade discussion.

College degrees have become increasingly emphasized. In the meantime, trade-oriented jobs remain plentiful but with far fewer bodies to fill them.

I’m not going to bore you with mounds of data but in 1940, 5.5% of males and 3.8% of females completed four years of college or more according to

By contrast, 34.6% of males and 35.4% of females completed four or more years of college in 2018.

As far as earning potential, there are factors such as gender, degree achieved and level of postsecondary education. If you base jobs on educational attainment, 35% require at least a bachelor’s degree, 30% require some college or an associate degree and 36% do not require education beyond high school.

Though I am proud to have my four-year degree and would not change anything, I believe trade jobs are extremely vital, everything from welders, construction workers, electricians, machinists, auto technicians, commercial drivers, etc., just to name a few. Those fields pay pretty well, in some cases better than some that require college degrees.

College degrees (specifically bachelors), however, can take four to six years in part because there are so many course requirements that have little to nothing to do with a person’s major.

Seriously, I have not used my Western Civilization class knowledge since I completed my final in the fall semester of 1992. I also can’t think of the last time I used algebra. I could give many other examples but I won’t in the interest of space.

Conversely, with trade schools, you will get hands-on training in your field. They are also less costly and less time-consuming, two years at most in some cases. I received my Class B license (Falcon Trucking School; Vallejo) just by taking a two-week course, costing all of $3,000. If you factor in studying for DMV written tests, it was closer to three months but you get the point.

What I would espouse is a different movement and this is aimed at youngsters wanting to go the trade school route: Even if you are so hell bent on working in the trade field, get your four-year degree first (or at minimum complete general ed course requirements), and then go to your
trade school. You will have the best of both worlds.

Why? I have seen this happen more times than I can count. An 18-year-old kid graduates from high school, goes to trade school, gets a job, and makes pretty good money. Many trade fields, however, involve physical work.

Then, 10 to 15 years later, “I’m tired of this, I don’t want to do this the rest of my life. I think I will go back to school and get a degree.” Well, at that point, you are in your late 20s/early 30s. If you are not married and don’t have kids, it’s easier to achieve but if you have a family, different story.

I’m not saying it’s impossible but it is a steep uphill climb. It is better to choose the path of less resistance.

By having both a four-year degree and a trade degree, you have a much wider array of options. The “you don’t need college to have a well-paying job” or “I know people without four-year degrees making more money than those with them” is a shortsighted argument.

Both are important and if you have both, so much the better.

Vincent D'Adamo lives in Napa, California.

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