Mike Bloomberg: Skip college, become a plumber

New York City's billionaire mayor tells students that most of them should avoid a costly degree and instead learn a well-paying trade.

By Aimee Picchi May 20, 2013 11:54AM

Plumber (© Wavebreakmedia Ltd/the Agency Collection/Getty Images)Mike Bloomberg, the outspoken mayor of New York City and the ultrawealthy founder of the financial data and media company that bears his name, is turning his attention to another of society's woes: the rising cost of a college education. 

Bloomberg, known for his battle against large, sugary sodas, offered some advice to students during his weekly radio show Friday, according to the New York Daily News

"The people who are going to have the biggest problem are college graduates who aren't rocket scientists, if you will, not at the top of their class," Bloomberg said. "Compare a plumber to going to Harvard College -- being a plumber, actually for the average person, probably would be a better deal."

Bloomberg, himself a graduate of Johns Hopkins University and Harvard Business School, pointed out that plumbers make a good living and don't have to deal with paying off huge college loans. 

Bloomberg may have a point. The 2010 median pay for plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters was almost $47,000, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. The median pay for all occupations was slightly more than $33,000. 

But the top 10% of plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters earned more than $79,000, the agency said. Even better, the job segment is projected to grow 26% through 2020, with new construction and a wave of retirements among older plumbers spurring employment. 

Bloomberg, whose net worth is estimated at $27 billion by Forbes, added that plumbing has another benefit in that it isn't suitable for outsourcing. "It's hard to farm that out, . . . and it's hard to automate that," Bloomberg said. 

The growing indebtedness of college grads has become a national topic, given that tuition hikes are outpacing inflation and recent grads are facing a tough job market. 

For students who graduated in the class of 2011 and borrowed to earn their degrees, the average debt was $26,600, up 5.3% from the previous year, according to the Project on Student Debt

Meanwhile, 284,000 college grads are making minimum wage, with degree holders taking jobs at employers such as Costco (COST) and Starbucks (SBUX), as MSN Money reported in April

Aimee Picchi is a former reporter for Bloomberg News. Follow her on Twitter at @aimeepicchi

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May 20, 2013 12:35PM
Nothing wrong with being a craftsman. Problem is, it's hard work and most kids today are too lazy for that kind of job.
May 20, 2013 1:29PM
I went to college, have a 4 year degree and chose to become a licensed master plumber.  It pays very well and I enjoy my work.  I have a a lot of flexibility  with my life as a small business owner.  I am a hydronic heating specialist. This kind of work requires math skills, business and marketing skills along with dexterity.  There is dignity in all work.
May 20, 2013 12:32PM

This university educated person has a very good point. Parents and high schoolers should sit down and talk to discuss their future goals for success. I have some college but mostly real world hands-on experience. I am only becoming more successful. I measure my success with a secure adult life: Paid home by 50 ( my home and -rental home in 7 yrs.), No car payments. So at 50 I will be debt free and ready to help my kids. And I may push them in a trade but college/university degree 1st! I know many people in trades that are better off than people with degrees. You don't have to pay trade skills back.

You see many people have not lived with a "POOR" mentality like I have. I live like no other to live like no other. Live by your means or less. It pays off to save  for rainy days.

May 20, 2013 1:03PM

For once, I agree with Nanny Bloomberg.


Tradesmen seldom want for work. A trade or craft is, once learned, something that can be of great practical use in everyday life.


As the "demand" for a college degree increases, the cost of that degree goes up while its value actually goes DOWN. BA and BS degrees are now a dime a dozen. Whoever started the "everybody should go to college" mantra should be strung up by their ankles.


HVAC technicians are in high demand, according to the overworked gentleman who services our furnace every year. But it seems that fewer people want to get their hands dirty. If I had to do all over again, I probably would have gone with a vo-tech career. But hindsight is always 20-20.

May 20, 2013 1:17PM
I am a union tradesman{Millwright local 2158}. I have made a very good living, have very good insurance and a very good pension. I am totally debt free, home is paid for, etc. Life is great. I have recommended for years to all the kids who would listen, "become a tradesman" you will  be happy you did.
May 20, 2013 1:09PM
Mayor Bloomberg's choice of words and his delivery may have been poor, but he's got the right idea.  The reason why this country is so dependent on foreign (especially ILLEGAL ALIEN) labour to do "blue collar" or "manual" jobs is because the message being given to US high school students is "university or else," and there is no network of vocational courses in high school or trade schools after high school to train native born Americans to do manual labour jobs like they have in Europe, Australia and the Far East.  What small number of trade schools there are also carry a social stigma that a trade school education is somehow inferior to a college education.  Another result of this problem is that the students who don't have the wherewithal to go to university are basically kicked out onto the street and left to fend for themselves with no job skills to carry them forward, so they are likely to get involved in crime or become lifelong welfare recipients.  The USA may be the greatest nation on earth, but its education system seriously sucks.
May 20, 2013 1:22PM
Not bad advice for those who find more interest in using their hands rather than cramming their nose in a book--there are many pathways to a career once one has at least a good basic educational foundation. Not everyone is best suited or, more importantly, best served by college.My plumber and my electrician will both out-earn me in our lifetimes despite my 2 master's degrees and my 30 year teaching career. Time to stop this ridiculous notion that every kid is college bound and this looking down on these professions.
May 20, 2013 1:19PM

Simple supply and demand. If everybody goes to college then no one is left to be a craftsman. The fewer the craftsmen the higher their pay. The more college degrees the lower the pay. If they are not in the top 5% for their degree they will probably never exceed what they could earn as a craftsman. I do not have a degree. I have made precision optics for 35 yrs. and make 6 figures to do it. I will retire and because we have no youth entering the workforce the remaining people with my skills will stand to make much more. I have moved all over the country. Never paid a dime to do it. Have not been out of work for a single day in those 35 yrs.

Learn a skill. Get good at it and you will do just fine in this world.

May 20, 2013 1:29PM
I have done both.  I have done virtually everything in the construction trade and was particularly good at finish carpentry.  Shortly after I was married at 23, my wife informed me she was going to be married to a college grad.  I had to ask, what a degree was, I didn't know.  What are these "master's", "bachelor's" and "associate's" degrees? I really didn't know.  Now I have all three and decades of work experience behind me.  I am 52 and nobody will hire an old guy.  I have been unemployed 6 months and had some 40 interviews in that time.  They love the resume, I do very well on the phone, but when an old guy walks through the door, the interview is over.  Yes, I know it is illegal. I have been a Human Resource Manager for 25 years.  That is the reality today.  Age discrimination is rampant.  Know ANY HR people over 45? Not many. 
May 20, 2013 12:59PM
All jobs should be explained to kids and let them decide what they would like to do for a living. Too many people are told to go to college with no idea on what to do when done. They are many well paid skill jobs are going unfilled. Most high school teacher and guidance push kids to go to college.
May 20, 2013 1:15PM
While I am usually at odds with some of the rediculous things Mr. Bloomberg comes up with, this one I agree with.  While jobs requiring a college degree seem to be over saturated with job seekers, the trades are desperately in need of apprentices who are willing to work.  The pay and benefits are enough to make a living as good or better than most college grads ever will.
May 20, 2013 1:26PM

Bloomberg is 100% right. Trade jobs are still in demand and pay fairly well. It wont cost you $40k a semester to get training on being a plumber, and you will start out making a decent wage. Most college students are lucky to get a job that pays 35k a year after they graduate.


If we are going to complain that illegals are taking all the trade jobs we have to enstill some sense of pride in those trade jobs. You'll never be a millionaire doing your job, but in the end you can fare pretty well in life.

May 20, 2013 1:45PM
Gen X'er here and speaking from experience.

 I'm in my latter 30's.  Received excellent grades in High School.  Then went on to a 2 year, community college to obtain my Associates Degree.  Why?  Because I had to pay for school myself, and with loans.  No free ride from Mommy and Daddy. 

I looked at community college education vs a large University.  No brainer.  In that day, 9k (as opposed to 22k from an IN STATE University) was a 2 year community college degree that could easily transfer to a 4 year University.  I jumped at the opportunity.  Took all my core classes that all the major universities required.  Didn't take any 'cupcake' electives.  So, I received my Associates in Science degree in 2 years then sat myself down and said, "Ok, fella.. what are you going to do now?" 

I decided to take a summer off from school and work at a local electrical contractor as a 'shop boy', loading trucks for the licensed electricians and delivering materials to various job sites.  8 years later, I was licensed (for 5 years by then), could travel anywhere in the NATION with my Journeyman Electrical License.  I was running large commercial jobsites and multiple-person crews.  In my late 20's, I was pulling in $52k.  Did I work overtime?  Sure I did.. but I was young, married, but didn't have kids yet. 

Long and short of it.. that was the ABSOLUTE BEST decision I ever made in life.  I obtained a highly affordable, "Get your foot in the door A LOT farther than a High Schooler" 2 year degree (that I paid off in 3 years).  And I was paid to learn on the job, AND received a license through 8000 on the job hours and a 4 year trade school that I can carry with me for the rest of my days.  Double bonus. 

That 2 year degree, coupled with a license in a highly sought-after trade afforded me the opportunity to work in a research laboratory, enabling scientists with cutting edge research on metal alloy development.  The pay?  $60+k.  Been doing this for over 8 years now. 

I own my home, I have no car payments, ZERO credit card debt, sock incredible amounts of money into my IRA, my child's IRA and me and my wife's rainy day fund.  The best part?  Knowing I had the presence of mind not to get caught up in the, "I won't be anybody if I don't have a bachelor's degree."

To this day, I make WELL above what many of my friends my age with Bachelor's Degree and even Masters Degrees make.  All because I wasn't afraid to work hard, put the time in, and learn a SKILL that our society DEPENDS ON!

College isn't for everyone anyways.  My advice?  If you aren't afraid of hard work, and wonder to yourself, "How in the HELL am I going to pay off $50+k in student loan debt??" then I highly suggest people look into a skilled trade.  Worked for me.  And it can absolutely work for you!

May 20, 2013 1:24PM

The Plumber Protects the Health of the Nation.

Plumbing or any construction trade is hard, sometime dangers work. But it is very rewarding and you can make a good living at it. Look at any building that has been around for 50,75, or a 100 years. Craftman built it.

Ballance sheets are shreaded in 7.

May 20, 2013 1:28PM
Tradesmen of any profession are hard to come by- I see this firsthand every day.
May 20, 2013 1:18PM
Good idea...plumbers will still have more brains and education than this half-wit corrupt politician!  Bloomberg is a good example of a college diploma on the wall doesn't mean you have brains...just a piece of paper.
May 20, 2013 1:14PM
Trades are definitely worth considering over a 4 yr degree. Bosshoss429 is either misinformed or ignorant with his take on Unions. If you think union workers are slaves. those slaves get pretty good perks.. Most folks would love to have weekends off, overtime, paid vacation or sick leave as well as a salary raise to keep up with the cost of living expenses, not to mention medical & dental coverage ..all with a pension and 401k plan when you retire. I know many union members that as part of their apprenticeship earned an associate's degree. Some unions have put out a very professional work force. Unfortunately not all trades unions are run the same and there have been scandals no different from big corporations.. I have friends that completed 4 years of college as well as those that went to work in trades after high school. The ones in trades have been steadily employed for 20 years as the ones that earned degrees took half of that time finding a steady job. Many out of their field of study. Bloomberg may come off as a crackpot, but at the root his opinions he makes a lot of sense.
May 20, 2013 1:55PM

I have two brothers, both smart guys but highscool dropouts. One makes $120k as a construction forman, the other around 90k as a Union Electrician. Good benefits and pensions for both.

I am the dummy who went to college and works 60 hours a week in a stressful envronment for about 85k.

Go figure!

May 20, 2013 12:20PM
They make that kind of money but can't afford pants that cover their entire butt.  What's up with that?

Does anyone look at anything anymore besides the money aspect?  What about apptitude, likelihood to enjoy what one does, or simply obtaining satisfaction from one's work? 


There are too many people who either are bored with their jobs or simply hate what they do.  What they earn doesn't change that.  An idea or people person is less likely to enjoy being a plumber that someone who likes to work with their hands. 


Another thing, a person often is more likely to do well in an occupation that he or she likes.  Not everyone would like nor is cut out to be a plumber, engineer, computer scientist or tradesperson.  Too many of the comments I see here and elsewhere seem to completely overlook this.  


As for college, it used to be realized that college is NOT,  I repeat NOT vocational school, at least not at the bachelor degree level.  A person is more than what he or she does to earn money and needs to know more than simply the knowledge that is necessary to perform in a job or occupation.  For example, people are also voters, parents, companions,  patrons of not only consumer goods but also the arts or sports.  We are not one-dimensional but the discussions on the topic seem to insist on seeing human beings in one-dimensional terms. 


Granted people need to be able to supports themselves and their families, if any, but trying to channel them into occupations in which they may not be suited , whether by interest, temperment, apptitude or intellect ,  is not a way to promote their long term occupational or professional success, never mind their success in simply living lives that are worth living.

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