Grace Marsiglio Grace Marsiglio
2023 Summer Intern, Communications, U.S. Chamber of Commerce


July 26, 2023


The “traditional” path of obtaining a four-year degree from a college or university has become the standard of postsecondary education in the United States—and while that works for some students, the path to success in the U.S. can look different for different people.  

Bypassing an expensive, lengthy degree program and opting for an apprenticeship or Career and Technical Education (CTE) program that propels a learner toward a hands-on career can have a strong return on investment. 

In addition to practical training, these programs can foster an entrepreneurial mindset in students. Once they receive the proper training, curating a niche skillset can position entrepreneurs as experts in their fields, allowing them to provide specialized services or products that meet market demands while standing out from the competition. 

Developing a practical problem-solving ability in a chosen trade further readies future entrepreneurs for real-world scenarios, as business owners must constantly adapt to changing circumstances and find innovative solutions to complex problems.  

Technical, trade, and vocational programs nurture self-reliance, creativity, and a proactive approach to problem-solving – all of which are qualities that empower individuals to run their businesses confidently. 

Build high-performing talent pipelines.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation developed Talent Pipeline Management® (TPM) to advance authentic employer leadership in building high-performing talent pipelines.

Despite these advantages to pursuing on-the-job learning, only 4.7% of small business owners in the U.S. attended a technical, trade, or vocational school.  

Some Members of Congress are pushing to increase that number. Congress is considering bipartisan legislation that directs more resources to Main Street employers for hiring graduates from career and technical education programs. Doing so allows CTE graduates to become qualified in their field through additional experience while also building familiarity with the small business setting. 

The “Supporting Small Business and Career and Technical Education Act” was introduced jointly by Chairman Roger Williams (R-TX) of the U.S. House Committee on Small Business and Representative Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (D-WA). Senators Roger Marshall, M.D. (R-KS) and Chris Coons (D-DE) introduced partner legislation in the U.S. Senate. Last month, the House Committee on Small Business reported the bill to the floor. 

“Success is still too often defined as having a college degree, and that often results in the lack of investment in career and technical education programs,” said U.S. Rep. Gluesenkamp Perez in a press release announcing the bill. 

“This bipartisan piece of legislation ensures federal resources are being used to support entrepreneurs and connect businesses with qualified employees,” said Chairman Williams. “It is our responsibility to better aid these entrepreneurs so they can achieve the American Dream.” 

In 2022, the average cost of attending a public four-year in-state university worked out to $10,940. In contrast, students can attend trade school for as little as $5,000 a year and usually complete their program and enter the workforce within just 18 to 24 months.  

Apprenticeships are also available for many trades, offering paid training positions for students. These apprenticeships are sometimes the only requirements to enter the field, and 93% of apprentices who complete a registered apprenticeship retain employment, with an average annual salary of $77,000.  

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs like elevator/escalator repairers and power line installers, which often only require apprenticeships as prerequisites, boast average salaries of $93,960 and $82,770 respectively. 

These low barriers to entry keep trade and vocational programs accessible for a wide range of students, allowing the accumulation of skills with little to no debt incurrence. Without the burden of debt, aspiring entrepreneurs have more freedom to achieve their business goals. 

Continued investment in non-traditional education programs sends a strong message to students, encouraging them to embrace their unique trajectories and shape a thriving future in the business world. 

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About the authors

Grace Marsiglio

Grace Marsiglio

Grace was a 2023 Summer Intern on the Communications team. She is a recent graduate of Florida State University and is currently pursuing a Master of Public Administration there.