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The Toolbelt Generation: Gen Z Chooses a Skilled Trade Education

Among the many trends set by Gen Z, from TikTok to streaming services and a resurgence of 90s fashion, the biggest rising trend is their approach to a career path. More and more Gen Zers are choosing trade schools over traditional four-year colleges. Why the sudden changes in higher education? The reasons may be more practical than trendy.

Faced with the daunting costs of traditional college education and ballooning student debt, many Gen Z students are choosing the trade school route, which offers financial relief and a quicker entry into the workforce. This shift—motivated by economic realities and job market opportunities—has sparked the nickname “the Toolbelt Generation.”

Changes in Higher Education

The financial burdens of traditional college are growing, and Gen Z students have signaled they are not as willing to take on as much (or more) debt as generations before them. In fact, “the average cost of college in the United States has more than doubled in the 21st century,” according to research from the Education Data Initiative via NPR.

As the price rises, many Gen Z students are looking for other options—and the skilled trades are a tempting alternative. According to the Wall Street Journal, there was “a 16% rise in enrollment in vocational-focused community colleges last year,” showcasing a significant shift toward hands-on training.

Just a Dirty Job? Not Exactly

The skilled trades used to be known as gritty, greasy or dirty work. Despite their critical impact on society, the trades gained a lesser reputation compared to white-collar jobs. But in today’s rapidly evolving job market, trade professions are shedding old stereotypes and emerging as smart, technology-driven career paths.

Advancements in technology are revolutionizing fields such as welding, A/C refrigeration, and automotive repair, with high-tech tools and software that are attractive to Gen Z students who have grown up with technology at their fingertips.

Plus, some trade starting salaries outpace those of university graduates, even offering potential six-figure earnings within a few years of on-the-job experience and upskilling, according to the Wall Street Journal. The appeal of earning a comfortable income can be a powerful draw to Gen Zers trying to carve their unique path to financial security and career growth.

An instructor and a student work under the hood of a car in an automotive shop

The Benefits of a Trade School Education

Trade schools like Apex Technical School offer more than just an alternative to four-year universities and two-year community colleges. They create a pipeline to a career opportunity in essential industries. By emphasizing hands-on learning and practical knowledge, Apex instructors help students become job-ready the moment they graduate to meet the growing demand left by retiring workers.

A strong Job Placement Assistance team at Apex supports students in their transition from classroom to career. This helps students feel ready to enter the workforce, a key concern for Gen Z students navigating an unpredictable job market. Gen Z prefers to seize control of their futures, and Apex empowers its students to do just that in their chosen trades.

Gen Z Education Is Overcoming Stigmas

An instructor and a student work with a level and block of wood in a carpentry shop

As the technology and narrative around trade professions continue to evolve, Gen Z is playing a significant role in creating a broader acceptance of these vital roles in the workforce. Once viewed as a fallback option if college didn’t work out, the skilled trades are now more widely recognized for their innovation, financial potential, and personal and professional growth.

For those seeking a viable and respected career path for practical or economic reasons, Apex Technical School is an established and accredited option in New York City for Gen Z education. Learn more about our trade programs and reach out today for a campus tour.

*Apex Technical School and its instructors are licensed by the State of New York, New York State Education Department.

Disclaimer: Apex Technical School provides training for entry-level jobs. Not everything you may read about the industry is covered in our training programs.