By Binta Dixon

March 2019

Many of today’s high school graduates feel obligated to enroll in college directly after high school, regardless of whether they have a clear career path in mind. However, many of these same students never graduate.

This is where educational ideals meet the reality of oversaturated job markets and low entry-level salaries.

Students are inundated with messages about what jobs hold prestige and how to get them. Becoming a lawyer, biologist or economist sounds great — but studies show that not all higher-education degrees are financially lucrative. And, as student loan debt accumulates, more and more are taking a hard left off the log-jammed highway of higher education and going to trade school.

It’s a trend the Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce actually would like to encourage.

Unlike the four-year degree route, studying a trade such as mechanical work and construction allows students to begin learning and earning directly out of high school. This means that, in less time than it would take to earn a bachelor degree, a worker can get several years of solid working experience, qualifying them for better wages and more senior roles.  

Since 80 percent of contractors are finding it labor-intensive to find qualified trade workers, the pay and opportunities for those who are skilled are increasing. In the Greater Fort Lauderdale area, for example, wages for construction workers are on the rise. Currently, construction workers in and around Fort Lauderdale make an average of $20.40 per hour — slightly higher than wages for the same jobs in Orlando and Miami.

“Right now, we’re building a county-wide program to engage more young people to enter the trades,” Dan Lindblade, president and CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce, told Invest: Greater Fort Lauderdale. “It’ll be a multifaceted partnership with Broward College, our technical colleges, CareerSource, the county government and the Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie and his team.

Lindblade said the program offers mentoring programs, internships and externships, “but now we really need to build a viable structure that can convey a powerful message to families.”

Toward that end, the GFL Chamber is partnering with public school officials, local businesses and trade schools to help break the stigma around skilled labor and entice more students to invest in a future with less starting debt and better starting wages.

Building South Florida’s skilled labor force is imperative if Broward and surrounding counties are to keep pace with the demand for trade labor that accompanies development, supporters say. And of course, Broward County’s technical schools are as excited to welcome eager learners as local businesses are to find more qualified candidates.

If county officials and schools can spread the news about this option, perhaps many recent high school grads can avoid heavy debt loads while finding rewarding, well-paying jobs within a very hungry labor market.  

For more information about our interviewee, visit the Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce website: https://www.ftlchamber.com/