Skilled trades will continue to grow in West Michigan, report says

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Capital News Service

LANSING — Skilled trades may offer an alternative to many people who don’t want the pressure of college debt and want to do practical work right out of high school, according to Ryan Bennett, the business manager of United Association Local 174 for plumbers, pipefitters and service trades in Coopersville. 

Jobs for plumbers and electricians will grow by around 20% by 2024, according to a report by the Michigan Works Association. The report covered 14 counties in West Michigan, including Ionia, Ottawa, Oceana, Mason and Allegan.

The study’s projection of the top 50 jobs includes three other skilled trades: industrial machinery mechanics, electrical machinery mechanics and machinists.

Growth rates for skilled trade jobs are lower than for careers in health care and computer science, according to Nick Gandhi, an economic analyst at the Department of Technology, Management and Budget. 

“There is more rapid growth for occupations that require additional education like a bachelor’s degree compared to growth in jobs that do not require higher education,” Gandhi said.

Career and technical education programs in high schools are the best way to prepare students for a successful career without going to college, says David Crimm, a communications consultant  at the Michigan Education Association in East Lansing. 

The programs reach over 100,000 students across the state, according to the union. 

They prepare students for 14 careers and blend classes like geometry with hands-on work to engage the class, says Lisa Seigel, a department specialist at the Michigan Department of Education.

Bennett said apprenticeships in a skilled trade like plumbing may lead to the job security and salary that many careers requiring a bachelor’s degree offer.

The only three requirements to gain access into a plumbing apprenticeship program are a high school diploma or GED, passing a drug test and reliable transportation. 

The starting wage is $17.60 an hour at the beginning of apprenticeships with members of the local union, Bennett said. 

He said a skilled trade career attracts many people who don’t want to be stuck in an office and don’t want to take on the debt that college often entails.  

“After five years, you have a $65,000-a-year salary, a pension, health care and zero debt,” Bennett said.

By 2026, the state will have to fill 545,000 skilled trade jobs, according to Technology, Management and Budget.

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