Somewhere down the road, trade schools got a bad rep. Although there are clear advantages, many still label vocational schools as "the last option," or for those who "couldn't make it into college." 

In my opinion, the perception changed as standardize testing became more mainstream. The ACT and SAT are so critical as a means of getting into college, that high schools switched their focus to preparing students for these tests rather than preparing students for a career. 

I'm sorry to say, but we've done many high school students a disservice. 

Part of the rationale was also the misconception that a four-year degree automatically means higher income. Not necessarily the case. There are multiple examples of trades and personal businesses paying just as much, if not more. For example, Bloomberg recently reported that plumbers at Superior Plumbing in Atlanta earn around $90,000 in wages and commissions. I've been a recruiter for nearly 10 years, and there are professional roles that don't pay that much even with 10 years of experience. 

Just recently, I had to hire contractors to repair and refinish the hardwood floors in my house and replace the siding. In both cases, they had more work than they knew what to do with. Both owned their own businesses and were earning six-figure incomes, and they were turning down work. The hardwood company was actively looking for students or apprentices, and they were willing to offer $60,000 per year. 

I'll never forget the story of a maintenance technician who was working for a tier-one automotive client of mine. Due to overtime, this technician was making more than the plant manager--a position that usually requires extensive experience and a four-year degree. 

It's time to change the paradigm. 

Here are the messages we should be sharing with our high school students. 

1. You don't need a four-year degree to find work.

As the economy continues to rebound, the manufacturing and skill trades industries face a new crisis: hundreds of thousands of unfilled positions. This supply versus demand gap is a huge opportunity for those who are willing to consider careers as welders, electricians, carpenters, and construction workers. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, construction and extraction occupations, for example, are expected to grow 11 percent over the next seven years--faster than the average for all other occupations. That's roughly 747,6000 new jobs.

The highest paying job on the list is elevator installers and repairs, with a median salary of $79,780. 

It's rare that, after graduating, you can find a job in your exact field of study, let alone earn an average income higher than most occupations requiring a four-year degree. 

2. You can get out without absurd student debt. 

In addition to the earning potential, tech school also gets you into the workforce faster (two years, compared to four for bachelor's degree) while reducing the amount of student loans. The combination puts most trade school grads in a better financial situation following graduation. 

According to College Board, a not-for-profit college prep organization, a bachelor's degree from a private university can be as high as $187,800 and $145,680 for a public college. Throw in groceries, textbooks, and other living expenses, and student debt can get out of hand quickly. 

Comparably, trade schools top out around $33,000, according to Value Colleges, an organization dedicated to helping interested parties make smarter post-secondary decisions. 

3. There are ample opportunities if you want to work for yourself. 

Many students have the dream of working for themselves. With the high demand for skilled trades and the low startup costs, the trade professions are ideal for those wishing to become self-employed.

Some of the top skill trade professions in demand include carpenters, plumbers, and electricians. The demand is largely due to baby boomers retiring. According to The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, baby boomer retirements will lead to as many as 55 million vacant jobs by 2020--31 million opening due to retirements and 24 million newly created jobs. 

The void is a huge opportunity for those who are willing to consider two-year colleges and trade school, apprenticeship, and mentorship programs. 

While I'm a fan of education, it requires an investment of time and money, and should be evaluated as such. It depends upon your goals. If you want to earn a great living, start your own business, or have a rewarding career, then there are more options than you think. 

Published on: May 24, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.