This GenZ entrepreneur started mowing lawns aged 12 for $35 a go—he skipped college and now his gardening business turns over $1 million a year

Chase Gallagher was just 12 years old when he began mowing lawns, charging $35 each time. Initially, he started with just two clients, but after distributing leaflets with his mother's help, he quickly expanded to 10 regular customers by the following year. Now at 23, Gallagher represents a notable trend among his generation — opting out of college in favor of pursuing skilled trades.

"I just didn’t see the ROI in going to university," Gallagher shared with *Fortune*. Instead, he scaled his small venture into CMG Landscaping, a flourishing business. "It took a lot of courage," he admits, regarding his decision to inform his parents, who had always envisioned college in his future.

#### Shifting Educational Preferences

This shift isn't isolated to individuals like Gallagher. There's a noticeable rise in enrollment at vocational and community colleges, notably a 16% increase last year, reaching the highest levels since records began in 2018 by the National Student Clearinghouse. Additionally, there has been a 23% surge in students entering construction trades and a 7% increase in HVAC and vehicle maintenance programs.

Emily Shaw, a 20-year-old apprentice at Redrow, a British construction company, represents a break from tradition — she’s the first woman in her family to enter the construction field, eyeing a future as a quality surveyor. Despite the historical pressure towards higher education, Shaw and her peers are recognizing that university degrees don't always correlate with secure and high-paying jobs.

#### Economic Decisions Over Traditional Pathways

Many in Gen Z, like Luke Phillips who briefly attended university before dropping out to pursue a career in jewelry making, realize that academic paths are neither the only nor the most financially sensible routes. "University seemed less scary than unemployment," Phillips remarked, but the excitement was short-lived, and the reality of alternative, more practical career paths won out.

Gallagher, contrasting the costs and debt associated with collegiate education versus the immediate earnings from trade jobs, pointed out, "Let's say you pay $50,000 a year for your college. Times that by four, that’s $200,000 for your investment. Plus, you’re losing four years of revenue by going to college."

#### The Trade and Social Media Influence

Social media, particularly platforms like TikTok, have also changed perceptions, illustrating the financial struggles of many college graduates. Vocational jobs, once stigmatized, are now seen as enviable, offering the prospects of good earnings and entrepreneurial freedom.

By age 16, Gallagher's burgeoning lawn mowing business had already grossed over $50,000, evolving into a significant landscaping operation with revenues exceeding $1 million last year. Despite some pressure to attend college as a marker of success, Gallagher and many like him are demonstrating that trades can indeed lead to prosperous careers.

#### Women in Trades

Despite these fields being predominantly male, the narrative is changing. Shaw’s experience at Redrow shows that not only are women entering the trades, but they are also thriving and paving the way for future generations. Research from Redrow reveals that high salaries and the potential for business ownership are key drivers attracting young women to the industry.

As Gen Z navigates the changing landscape of career and education, the inclination towards trades is more than just a financial decision — it's a culturally and socially informed choice, breaking long-held stereotypes and offering a new path to success.  

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