Advertise With Us

The Skills Gap: Are all high school graduates headed for a 4-year degree?

Blue Collar View
The Skills Gap:  Are all high school graduates headed for a 4-year degree?
By Marc Townsend

In 2014, over 92 million Americans were out of work. Ironically, we had over 3 million jobs available in the skilled trades. That gap is somewhat puzzling to me. 

Marc Townsend, Plumbing Division Manager, Bardi

Consider this: more than 40 million Americans currently have at least one outstanding student loan. The nationwide student loan debt is at an all-time high of $1.2 Trillion, according to a September 2014 Experian analysis. The estimated unemployment rate for 2014 college graduates is 8.5%. The underemployment rate – highly skilled workers earning low pay –  is 16.8%. The underemployment rate does not factor into the national unemployment rate, which is estimated anywhere between 5.5 and 8 percent.  I guess they didn’t sample the Georgia unemployed, because I feel sure that the number would be much higher. Does anyone know what the unemployment rate is? I doubt it, but it’s high. Too high. What does this have to do with the “Skills Gap”? A lot.

I have been in the plumbing and mechanical business since I was in my early teens. Too smart for high school, I quit two weeks before graduation and earned my GED at about the same time my friends were graduating. I knew from a young age that I was not college bound. I was lucky, believe it or not, because I knew where my talents resided. I found the plumbing industry fascinating. The first book I ever read cover-to-cover, because I chose to, was the Georgia State Plumbing Code book. Sounds boring right? To me, it wasn’t. It is “The Bible of Plumbing,” the do’s and don’ts, and the Law. I was so intrigued with the math, geometry and state codes, I became (at the time) the youngest Master Plumber in the State of Georgia. 

Now picture this. A truck pulls up to a brand new home under construction. The driver drops off several hundred feet of different sized PVC and copper pipe, five 55-gallon trash cans full of PVC fittings and three 5-gallon buckets of copper fittings. He dumps them all on the bare wood floor and leaves you to sort things out. As a plumber, you start drilling holes, sawing wood flooring, cutting pipe and installing fittings. Before you know it, you have a plumbing system. All those pipes and fittings are like a huge jigsaw puzzle. All the pieces have been scattered in the floor, and you have to install each piece perfectly so that it fits. Sounds easy, right? To the trained, experienced Plumber, it is. However, it is not for the inexperienced novice or the brave, macho homeowner. In fact, I have made a nice living over the years coming in after a brave homeowner has attempted a complex plumbing repair. He usually pays a little extra if I can fix his “repair” and be gone before his wife gets home. 

The plumbing trade, as are the Electrical and HVAC trades, is a respectable, highly-technical field, and not everyone is suited or equipped to be successful in it. Not everyone is suited to be an accountant, or a doctor, or an attorney, either. Public and private schools have been pushing four-plus year college educations to our children for decades. That’s fine; my wife and I have done it ourselves. We have two children who took the post-secondary-education route, and two who did not.  But they are all gainfully employed, in professional jobs and on-track for advancement. Our son, I am proud to say, is a plumber.

An interesting, and I’m sure unintended, result of steering “college bound” students toward a four-year school, while students considered “not college bound” are pretty much left to figure things out on their own, is this:  there is now a glut of college graduates who are working at Starbucks or waiting tables (while struggling to pay off college debt), and there is a glaring deficit of skilled tradesmen who, with a few years’ experience under their belts and some good training, can earn well into the six figures. Not only can these tradesmen get on-the-job training as apprentices and journeymen, they are not saddled with education debt.  Why would a young person not consider learning a trade as a career choice? Because we as parents and educators have not taught them that the trades are respectable careers, and they most definitely are.

Is traditional college right for your child? Consider the following:

2015-2016 Estimated Cost of Attendance at UGA (4 year Marketing Degree)$100,536.00

The median starting salary of a Marketing Coordinator in Atlanta   $45,000.00

2015-2016 Estimated Cost of Attendance at Georgia Tech $103.008.00

The median starting salary of a Mechanical Engineer in Atlanta   $39,000.00

2014-2015 Estimated Cost of Attendance John Marshal Law School 3 year 

(AFTER 4 years of undergraduate school) $198,000.00

The median starting salary of a lawyer in Atlanta    $42,000.00

Average salary for a Residential Service Plumber in Atlanta $96,000.00

Average salary for a Residential HVAC Technician in Atlanta $75,000.00

Average salary for a Residential Refrigeration Technician in Atlanta $74,000.00

So where do you gain the knowledge that is needed to be successful in the Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning and Refrigeration trades? You can go to a local technical college and gather all the classroom work, with very little hands-on training in the field. Plumbing is not currently taught in the local technical colleges, a sad fact that leaves our tech schooling woefully lacking.

Bardi Heating, Air Conditioning and Plumbing, and Bardi Mechanical have developed a detailed course syllabus to properly train young energetic individuals willing to learn at “Bardi University.” Bardi has implemented an Earn While You Learn program. The right candidates will be chosen for this program through screening and multiple interviews. Students learn the proper way to perform the job in a classroom environment, as well as working in the field with our highly skilled technicians.

Consider the following:
Go to law school and acquire up to $200,000 in student debt. Enter the work force at a starting rate of $42,000 per year. How long will it take you to get a return on your investment?

Given the information above, where is the best return on your investment? Learning a skilled trade – and earning money while you do it – make sense for many young people, or for those people who, for one reason or another, find themselves needing to change careers. What’s the catch? You have to be willing to work, and I mean really work. Last I checked, however, hard work never killed anyone.

While working in the Mechanical, Electrical & Plumbing (MEP) fields is not the most glamorous job to have it is a much respected job and a skilled Tradesmen are in HIGH DEMAND.

If you are interested in the “Bardi University” program go to to learn more. Check out Bardi University and what it has to offer you, as a student and future trade professional. 

Gwinnett resident Marc Townsend is currently the Residential and Commercial Plumbing Division Manager at Bardi Heating, Cooling and Plumbing in Norcross, GA. He has 33 years in the Plumbing and Mechanical trades industry, with extensive knowledge and licensing in Water, Oil, Gas, Steam and Process Piping. He and his wife are (almost) empty-nesters, if you don’t count the four dogs who still live, very comfortably, at home. You may email Marc at: