Sabastian Kleis, the son of a waitress from Rust Belt Ohio, was supposed to be the first person in his family to graduate from college. Instead, he plummeted out of Kent State University after two years. By most reports, Kleis, 24, should be flipping burgers. But on a recent afternoon a lumber company was grooming him for a management job.

One of the nation’s largest building-supply chains, 84 Lumber Co ., expends millions on ads to drive home its message that reading a trade can be more valuable than earning a college degree. The corporation pays manager trainees about $40,000 a year, and that’s just the start. Those in charge of top-grossing storages can earn $200,000, and in a few occurrences more than$ 1 million, including bonuses. Yet, astonishingly, its recruiters have had difficulty determining qualified takers.

84 Lumber is in the vanguard of a corporate quest to solve a labor market conundrum: Skilled and high-paying blue-collar occupations go unfilled, while millions take on loans to pay for degrees of dubious financial value.” You can go to college and read the theology of the Roman Empire ,” tells Kleis, who just completed a three-day educate program at 84 Lumber’s rural Pennsylvania headquarters.” You read all this ridiculous nonsense, and when you get out, what are you applying that to? I know how to frame a home .”

Assembling a wall panel at an 84 Lumber plant in Coal Center, Pa.

Photographer: Stephanie Strasburg/ Bloomberg

The 250 -store chain and other employers are taking that message to the masses. Associated General Contractors of Colorado is spending$ 2 million on recruiting and apprenticeships. Carpentry Contractors Co . in Minnesota hired a comedian to star in recruiting videos that have racked up a quarter-million views on YouTube.

Of course, a college degree remains a tremendous asset in the job market. The unemployment rate among U.S. employees with a four-year degree was 2.7 percent last year, compared with 5.2 percentage for those with only a high school certificate. Over a lifetime, a B.A. translates into $830,000 more in earnings, according to a Federal Reserve investigate.

Once upon a day, less academically inclined students attended high school vocational programs, which are now out of fashion. Today most students try college but half never complete degrees, according to Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. For those dropouts, tracks into blue-collar professions have been narrowing: Manual and lower-skilled undertakings fell to 39 percent of the U.S. workforce in 2014, from 63 percentage in 1960, according to a new analyse from Third Way, a Washington think tank.

A tight job market has turned people like Kleis into hot prospects. The percentage of jobs in construction that go unfilled reached a 15 -year high in December 2016, according to a National Association of Home Builders analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data.” The forgotten half of the high school class is abruptly valuable, but not until they get taught up ,” Carnevale says.

A sign advertising chores near the plant in Coal Center, Pa.

Photographer: Stephanie Strasburg/ Bloomberg

This month, President Donald Trump issued an ordering doubling money for apprenticeships, saying they enabled students to secure” great tasks” without college.” Apprentices earn while they learn ,” he said.( On Trump’s TV show, they likewise got fired .)

84 Lumber’ s owner, Maggie Hardy Magerko, has something in common with the president. Both inherited business from their father-gods that have constructed them fabulously rich. Magerko owns almost all of closely held 84 Lumber, whose stores cater primarily to residential builders and contractors. She is worth $2.1 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

84 Lumber proprietor Maggie Hardy Magerko.

Photographer: Stephanie Strasburg/ Bloomberg

Magerko, 51, is not afraid to flaunt her wealth, sending a message to her laborers that they too can get rich working building. Wearing a diamond cross necklace, a Gucci belt, and a white shirt emblazoned with the company logo, she visited a rural Pennsylvania store recently in a white Mercedes.” I want people who work for me to retire in their 50 s and own their own crafts ,” she says.

A dyslexic, Magerko lasted only one semester at West Virginia University. She favors straight talk , not to mention profanity.” Person will ask you,’ What does your son do ?’ If you say he develops mansions for a living, they’ll tell:’ So sorry ,'” she mentions.” Why aren’t we saying,’ That’s awesome. That is so cool that he’s be permitted to make money off his fervour .'” 84 Lumber, which has about 5,500 employees, is projected to hire 1,000 this year.

To stimulate her phase, Magerko courts controversy. The corporation invested more than $16 million on an ad that operated during this year’s Super Bowl. It proved a Mexican mother and daughter blocked by international borders wall, merely to find a big wooden entrance( presumably built with supplies from 84 Lumber ).” The will to succeed is always welcome here ,” read the ad’s tag line.( Magerko, who tells she voted for Trump, opposes his anti-immigration policies .)

After Fox Broadcasting Co. threatened not to operate the spot, 84 Lumber’s ad firm came up with a answer: TV viewers understood the first 90 seconds and was later directed to the company’s website for the conclusion. The website crashed. Since then, prospects have submitted 35,000 occupation applications.

In the company’s latest commercial, an astronaut swims above Mars and a voice-over explains that NASA is attempting applicants for its mission:” It takes ambition, a can-do stance, and a lot of moxie to be chosen for one of the most coveted positions in the universe. Runners-up: We invite you to apply to our management-training program .”

Almost half of 84 Lumber’s trainees have no college degree. Kleis was one of 15 who attended the latest three-day” Lumber Camp ,” which is held in Eighty Four, the Pennsylvania town( population 700) near Pittsburgh where the company is based. Attendees learned building basics, such as how to take proper measurements and how to turn a designing blueprint into a “take-off,” the list of all the documentation and sums needed.

Managers-in-training take a test at one of the company’s three-day Lumber Camps.

Photographer: Stephanie Strasburg/ Bloomberg

At a nearby flower the voice of saws cutting two-by-fours fills the air, as 10 humankinds hunch over long tables in a build the size of a football field. They are hammering together lumber truss, which are used to support the roof of mansions. Plant manager Rick Holmes, a fit 47 -year-old in a blue 84 Lumber baseball cap and work boots, joined the company 29 years ago, just after high school.” I got to raise two kids very well ,” he says.” New clothes. New shoes. The best of everything ,” says Holmes, who remembers splurging on a $500 baseball bat.

His older son, Zach, 23, operates as an 84 Lumber production manager in Maryland. His younger, Eric, is still thinking about college. But the 18 -year-old is continuing his options open. He has a occupation this summer–at 84 Lumber.