By John Mielke

For recent high school graduates, individuals interested in changing professions and those seeking a second chance at the American dream, there is no better time to join the construction industry.

A career as a construction craft professional doesn’t require a four-year college degree. Individuals are educated through earn-while-you-learn, continuing education or apprenticeship programs, which can be completed without incurring any student loan debt. When you consider recent four-year college graduates are shouldering an average of $37,000 in student loans, this education model is especially appealing to young people joining the workforce.

The construction field not only allows for professional development, but a high earning potential as well. According to the Wisconsin Technical College System, a graduating apprentice (journey worker) in construction begins his or her post-apprenticeship career earning a median salary of $76,954 for an average of 42 weeks of work per year.

Construction offers a career pathway into management positions, too. Journey workers use lifelong learning to become supervisors and project managers or go back to school and apply credit toward a head start on a two-year construction management degree at a technical college. This can then be applied toward a four-year construction management degree. There’s also the entrepreneurial pathway that many choose, starting businesses in specialty trades like plumbing or electrical.

Even with these great opportunities, there are an estimated 500,000 open construction positions in the United States. With a significant segment of the construction workforce nearing retirement, the employment leverage of skilled craft workers continues to increase. That means wages and benefits are expected to become even better.

Associated Builders & Contractors (ABC) of Wisconsin is committed to recruiting and fostering the next generation of workers to close the skills gap. October is designated as national Careers in Construction Month, but ABC of Wisconsin works with high schools and community-based organizations year-round to ensure everyone has access to these worthwhile, family-sustaining career opportunities.

To learn more about construction career opportunities, visit www.BuildYourCareerWI.org.

John Mielke is the president of Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin.