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Dear Decaturish – Nonprofit CEO says student loan forgiveness doesn’t address core issues

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Dear Decaturish – Nonprofit CEO says student loan forgiveness doesn’t address core issues

Scott Shelar. Photo provided to Decaturish

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Dear Decaturish,

President Biden recently announced that the Federal government will forgive up to $20,000 in student loan debt for up to 43 million Americans.

And while the move helps some people in the short term, it does not address the core issues. The President’s announcement doesn’t offer a solution to the large amount of student debt that so many young people incur in going the traditional four-year college route.

The cost of secondary education continues to rise. Interest rates on loans are poorly regulated. Nothing has yet been done to keep future students from amassing the same amount of crushing debt. It’s clear that those high-interest rate loans fall more often on young people, communities of lower incomes, and minorities.

A four-year college path is not always the best fit. Many students don’t have the temperament for long hours of classes and studying. For many, their creativity is fueled by imagining new things, designing, and building with their hands.

We like to frame it this way: One student goes through four years of college and comes out with a degree and $200,000 in student loan debt. A second student goes through a free skilled trade apprenticeship program, is hired full time, and four years later has enough money saved to buy or at least put a respectable down-payment on a house. The first student might take 10 or 15 years to save enough to pay off their debt and buy that first home.

What about the low pay myth? The fact is that wages in the skilled trades are excellent. Workers start off earning a high hourly wage and often qualify for health insurance and retirement benefits from their employer. Advancement and pay increases come quickly in construction. It’s common for a worker who starts out as an hourly laborer with no experience to advance to a salaried position in less than a year. Check out indeed.com for a few examples. Type in “plumber” or “electrician,” and not only will you see tons of opportunities, you will see wages up to $130,000 a year!

And from there, things get better. As you gain more experience and develop specialized construction skills, you can command a higher salary, move around in the industry and try different jobs, advance to a supervisory role, or even start your own business.

Demand for employees in construction and the skilled trades continues to be high and is expected to remain so for many years. We often refer to the “skilled labor gap,” the fact that more people are retiring from the skilled trades than are coming into the industry.

With basic training, a high school graduate might earn $30 – $40K in their first year, with potential for higher income over their career. They can start their careers with the benefit of employer-sponsored training programs, without debt hanging over their heads.

Training programs like Construction Ready’s “Pre-Apprenticeship Training” can prepare someone for an entry-level job in just a few weeks. They can come out of the training ready to start a career in electrical contracting, plumbing, carpentry, masonry, welding, or HVAC.

Avoiding massive student loan debt provides an incredible level of financial freedom. Those who begin their careers at a young age can gain a gigantic financial advantage compared to their peers who have to pay off loans over many decades.

– Scott Shelar, President & CEO of Construction Ready, a nonprofit that trains people for careers in the skilled trades (www.constructionready.org)

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