Skilled labor jobs offer employment opportunities

HATTIESBURG, Miss. — The weak job market is prompting many young adults to pursue careers as skilled laborers — jobs that pay well and don't need a four-year degree.

There's a steady market for plumbers, and the work can be lucrative, John David McElhaney of McElhaney Plumbing and Hardware in Hattiesburg told The Hattiesburg American

"We're busy non-stop," he said. "It's physically demanding, but it's a fairly easy trade to get into. There a lot of different aspects of plumbing — new construction plumbing, service repair, drain cleaning, septic systems and things like that."

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that between 2010 and 2020, jobs for stonemasons will grow 40 percent, those for plumbers by 26 percent and for construction equipment operator jobs by 23 percent.

Annual median pay for stonemasons is about $45,400; for plumbers between $28,300 to $82,300; and about $39,500 for equipment operators, it said.

Those are among many jobs requiring only vocational-technical training or a two-year degree. Others include pipefitting, truck driving, shipfitting and allied health courses.

Tuition at Mississippi's community colleges averages $1,000 to $1,200 per semester, with additional fees for allied health courses.

The average four-year college graduate owes $25,000 in student loans, according to the National Center for Policy Analysis.

The constantly changing market is a big problem for job seekers — something students should consider before making a four-year commitment, Pamela Villarreal, senior fellow at NCPA, said in a prepared release.

She said most skilled labor requires a high school diploma, and usually apprenticeship or on-the-job training. "That's obviously not for everybody, and there's a stigma associated with having a blue collar type of work," she said, "although plumbers tend to get paid very well."

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