I started my post-secondary education like many of my friends and former classmates. And just as it was instilled in me, like probably all of you, I was told to graduate high school, go to college because college graduates get the best careers.
I’m a living testament to that – but not in the way you think. I have a bachelor’s of business administration. I’m a total math nerd. But it wasn’t until I was nearing graduation from a four-year university that I was exposed to a completely different path I never knew about.
College debt mounting, I needed a job. I had a difficult time finding a job in my field of study because I lacked the experience that so many companies needed and that coveted degree. And the thought of piling student debt with no source of income made this soon-to-be husband paralyzed with fear. How could I start a family if I was drowning in debt?
I couldn’t become another statistic.
Faced with making ends meet and paying my college debt while still in school, my now-father in-law suggested I try another high-demand field.
So I started my apprenticeship with the Iron Workers Local 25 while still in college. What started as just a job to get me on my feet launched me into an awesome career with great pay.
Don’t get me wrong: bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees have their place. We need them, too. But to liken my trade, my career, to an under-skilled and undereducated workforce only perpetuates the problem Michigan – and all the U.S. – has today. Unfortunately, some in the university realm don’t understand that. And as a result, some institutions neglect to look at the true meaning and goal of Gov. Rick Snyder's Marshall Plan for Talent.
It isn’t just a career and technical education plan. It’s a plan for Michigan to help students, parents, businesses and people like me recognize there are meaningful pathways to all careers in Michigan. And whether you have a degree that took you four years or two years to get – or a certificate that you earned right out of high school, it ensures all students find a pathway to a career that’s right for them.
I am living proof of multiple career pathways. I didn’t take the traditional route some would take, but I can tell you I am student-debt free and have a sustainable lifestyle that provides for my family. And I enjoy my career and the potential for continued growth in my field.
Though my credentials and degree might be separate now, they will, with a 21st Century economy, push my career options further. Who knows? I may go back to school and change fields altogether one day. The beauty of lifelong learning is that continued education and training should be encouraged for all people, all ages, skill sets and careers.
As it turns out, my math skills helped me in my apprenticeship, just as they help me as an iron worker every day. When I started my apprenticeship with the Iron Workers union, I was making $15.35 an hour. Four years later I was making nearly double that.
And today, I make well-over $100,000 a year.
That’s a math skill everyone can appreciate.
Corey Aitken is 28 and lives in Fenton.
Originally posted on Detroit Free Press