Are 4 Year Degrees Required for Manufacturing Success?

High school students always have a big decision to make about where to go and what to do after graduation. The most common question that they routinely ask is: Should I go to college? These days, the answer to that question depends on a multitude of factors. Some being: the national mindset that students should get a bachelor’s degree, their parents and educators supporting and pushing that mindset, and the option to learn a skilled trade.

In this blog, we explore what you need to know to work in the manufacturing industry. Additionally, we will cover education statistics and the reason why there are so many manufacturing positions waiting to be filled.  

Degree or No Degree?

While a college degree may improve your chances of finding a job, you don’t necessarily need one to work in the manufacturing industry. Manufacturing depends upon non-college degree jobs, which are separated into two categories–skilled operators and skilled trades. These two areas don’t necessarily require a college degree, but do require some post-secondary training.

Skilled operator jobs include machinists and CNC machine programmers, while the skilled trades include positions such as welders or electricians. Skilled operator positions generally require two years of training through a technical school, whereas a skilled trade position can be acquired through an apprenticeship or journeyman program.

But a basic education, whether it’s an apprenticeship or a technical school certificate will only take you so far. With rapidly changing technology and a growing industry, a four-year degree may be more necessary than ever before.


  • According to the National Center for Education Statistics, students who earned occupational credits are more likely to be employed than students with academic credentials.
  • The National Center for Educational Statistics also noted that those individuals who earned occupational credits are more likely to be working in their field of study–and not be burdened with student debt.
  • In a survey done by The Good Jobs Project, it was found that about 25% of manufacturing employment requires a four-year degree, while the other 75% does not. However, that 75% does require at least one year of postsecondary education through a trade school or similar program.
  • Jobs that don’t require degrees are plentiful according to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. According to their study, the United States has 30 million jobs that pay an average of $55,000 per year and don’t require a four-year degree.

The Demand for Employees

Despite the fact that these jobs don’t require four-year degrees, many are going unfulfilled. Why? Mainly because there’s bias against vocational careers, which has had the unfortunate effect of worsening the manufacturing skills gap. Additionally, with most younger generations being pushed towards a college degree the trades get overlooked and are made out to be a less than practical option.

According to the economic-modeling company EMSI, more than half of tradespeople are over the age of 45 as of 2012–meaning that looming retirements could result in a shortage of workers. However, those shortages could result in rewarding, good-paying jobs for high school students. With plenty of openings, good pay, and rewarding hands-on work, what’s not to like?

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