An open letter to high school graduates — Part 2

David Epps

So, you’re not sure you want to go to college? You won’t be alone if that is your decision. Of those who do decide to go to college after high school, 41 percent will not graduate in six years. Another viable option is:

2. A skilled trade. The average Skilled Trades salary in the USA is $49,400 per year or $25.33 per hour. Entry level positions start at $25,350 per year while more experienced workers make up to $83,980 per year. The entry level may seem low. By contrast, the average starting salary for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree is $38,617. But the average overall salary for a teacher is $45,622 according to the National Education Association — which is almost $4,000 less per year than a skilled tradesman.

Like all professions, the pay differs from trade to trade. Simply put, some skills are more in demand than others. Generally speaking, the trades involve working with one’s hands:. Making things, adjusting things, fixing things, building things.

My father served in the Navy during World War II. When he was discharged and got married, he tried several jobs. He worked in a shoe store, which he hated. He sold life insurance, which he hated. He even ran a grocery store and, later, an antique store, which he liked but didn’t really pay the bills. But he liked working with his hands. Eventually he became an electrician. Which he loved. You have to find what it is that you want to do for the rest of your life.

If the trades are for you, you might begin by checking the catalog of trade schools or community colleges. The training programs will be anywhere from 4-12 weeks for a nurse’s aide to two years or so for a more skilled job.

Mike Rowe, of “Dirty Jobs” fame, is a big supporter of the trades. When things go wrong in a home, a car, or a factory, it’s not the white collar people that are called. It’s this so-called “blue collar” people. These might include welders, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, automotive mechanics, pipe-fitters, brick masons, and so forth.

The trades also include commercial truck drivers, airplane mechanics, diesel equipment mechanics and technologists, air conditioning repair, small engine repair, tool and die manufacturing, cosmetology, and culinary arts, to name a few. Some schools offer programs in emergency medical technician, entertainment technology, dental assisting, licensed practical nursing, drafting, auto body technology, and … well, the list seems endless and there are countless other fields.

Did you know that someone has to fix those big copiers when they develop problems? Or computers? Or any other kind of gadget or machinery? Most of the time, college degrees are not required. Training is required whether through a trade school or community college or through an apprenticeship program.

My father had a combination of night school and apprenticeship to become an electrician. I, myself, went to a six-month school, 40 hours a week, to become an office machine repairman. Of course, that was a long time ago and most of those machines are now obsolete. But, I left that field because I had my sights set somewhere else.

If you don’t know what you want to do with your life, ask questions. Talk to people. Ask adults in the careers that you are thinking about what is required, what it’s like, what do they do each day? One summer after high school I was an electrician’s helper. I learned a great deal but, unlike my dad, didn’t want to do that. Now I pay people who are electricians more than I make per hour to do those jobs in my home.

Here’s a few jobs and their median salaries for occupations learned in trade or technical school:

• Elevator installation and repair $77,806

• Radiation Therapist $69,504

• Geological and Petroleum Tech $61,370

• Web Developer $58,448

• Dental Hygienist $54,989

• Electrician $52,527

• Paralegal & Legal Assistant $50,410

• Plumber $50,349

• Carpenter $45,170

You get the idea. And there may be scholarships at trade schools and community colleges that offer programs for the trades. But you won’t know about any of that by lying around the house or playing on the computer/cell phone all day. It’s your future, after all. It’s no one’s responsibility but yours to make something good of your life.

Not interested in college? Or the trades? Well, there are other options. Check back next week.

[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA between Newnan and Peachtree City ( He is the bishop of the Charismatic Episcopal Diocese of the Mid-South which consists of Georgia and Tennessee. He may contacted at]