College grads seek jobs in trades

September 6, 2010 (CHICAGO)

Kamil Bowie, 31, earned his bachelor's degree in accounting in 2003. Since being laid off recently, he's rethinking his career path. Bowie enrolled in the overhead electrical line worker program at Dawson Technical Institute. Graduates are typically recruited by power companies across the tri-state area.

"People need power. This is not something that you can outsource," said Bowie. "I was looking for a job that was not going to move anywhere."

A recent survey on job outlook by recruiter challenger Gray and Christmas shows what some grads are finding out the hard way -- many traditional degrees won't guarantee a job.

"Some of the hottest areas before the recession for college grads were in banking and finance, even in mortgage brokers were very hot, but now those jobs have dissipated," said John Challenger, Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

At the headquarters of Chicago Women in Trades, a recent recruiting session draws a myriad of women. Many are college-educated and currently unemployed.

"I was trying to pursue probation officer, but the waiting list was so long, like seven years. So I kind of couldn't wait on that. So I pursued other career in sales and management," said Patricia Charles, who holds a degree in criminal justice.

Sarah Joy Liles made the switch from Chicago Public Schools art teacher to journeyman pipefitter. She says family and friends questioned her choice but recent layoffs have reaffirmed her decision.

"You've got an education. You could be out of the dirt and the heat, so why would you want to do this sort of physical blue collar work?" said Liles.

Construction jobs typically attract few women, but millions in federal stimulus dollars for shovel-ready projects show those are areas of guaranteed job growth. And as many in the industry point out, the salary and benefits are tough to beat.

"Electricians right now is 40 bucks an hour you know, plus your benefits and the benefits and health care is astronomical. Most of our retirees retire extremely well off if they get so many years in," said Maurice King, assistant training director, IBEW Local 144.

Most trade schools cost far less than traditional colleges. There are even some free training programs that offer paid on-the-job training.

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