Our son says 'No' to college, he wants to be a construction worker

Your Life
Dr. Cathleen McGreal
November, 2016

Our son doesn’t want to go to college, and instead wants to be a construction worker. We are afraid he won’t ever get a good job and be able to support a family someday.

One of my best friends decided to work full- time in an audio library for the music industry after our first year of college. I reasoned with her, earnestly explaining that she needed to stay in college to be successful. Fortunately, she ignored my advice, and ended up crafting a career that was highly rewarding on a personal basis as well as being one that provided her with financial security. Although loved ones can provide feedback in the discernment process, we can’t choose the paths for others.

Dignity of work. It is important to remember that all work has dignity. As St. John Paul wrote in his apostolic letter, Laborem Exercens, or “Through Work,” humans not only “transform nature” through work, adapting it to their own needs, but they also “achieve fulfillment as a human being.” 

Getting a good job. Individuals define a “good job” in different ways. Having a just wage that can support a family is essential. But the ability to provide a family with luxury items and with vacations in faraway places isn’t. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides a list of the occupations with the highest chance of employment. At the very top is wind turbine service technician, a career that would likely have been completely off our radar when many of us were 18! The BLS predicts that employment opportunities for construction laborers and helpers will increase faster than many other occupations.

Finding a good fit for one’s skills. A career in construction involves work that is physically demanding. Find out what aspects of construction appeal to your son, and see if you can help him determine a niche that is a good fit. Is he good at math? Is he eager to learn how to read blueprints? Then finding a technical school and studying basic masonry might be a good approach before an apprenticeship. Or he may use his time as a construction helper to observe the different skilled trades. Is he interested in becoming a carpenter? Electrician? Painter? Plumber? Check out the U.S. Department of Labor Apprenticeship USA to explore what path matches his dreams for the future.

What about a “Gap Year”? Many of us in the U.S. became familiar with the concept of a “gap year” when it was announced that Malia Obama would take a year off between high school and college. One option for this experience is participation in AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps). Young adults (aged 18-24) work as a team completing critical projects within our country. My daughter, Erin, found this to be a rewarding experience. The field work is intense, but the outcome leads to positive gains not only with regard to the projects, but also in the lives of the individuals who are able to reflect on their own skills and gifts. Learning to work as a team is an asset that will help in any future career.

Keep an open dialogue with your son as he explores options for his future. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jer 29:11)