Speaking as a skilled worker whose job went away (sold) 5 years ago, I believe that on-the-job experience is, at times, better than college.
Having said this, it is hard to guess employer hiring criteria. Perhaps one needs to know the right people, or some employers are biased toward a person’s background (union affiliation).
How many companies test applicants during the employment process? I’m sure that many people currently unemployed with skills are ready to work.
The question is, Are employers unbiased and fair to all applicants? Perhaps this should be studied further.