There are some very good reasons these days to work in the trades, but before you know the top reasons, you should consider what careers make up “the trades.” Basically, skilled trades are those jobs or occupations that require a special skill or ability. Training for skilled trades can be from a technical school or college, or on-the-job. But the job does not require a four-year college degree.
Skilled trades can be in one of three areas:
- Industrial trades, like mechanics or machinists, welders, or tool and dye makers
- Construction trades, like carpenters, plumbers, electricians, bricklayers or insulators
- Service trades, like some nursing positions, aides, orderlies and some therapists
Mike Rowe, famous for his TV show “Dirty Jobs,” started his Mike Rowe Works Foundation to promote skilled labor. He says “skilled workers make civilized life possible.” From his website:
Mike Rowe traveled to every state and worked with plumbers, electricians, steamfitters, pipefitters, brick layers, farmers, fishers, and a bunch of other skilled workers who help keep our polite society humming along. They were individuals who found opportunity where no one else thought to look. They were entrepreneurs running successful businesses. They were happy people who managed to figure out a positive work-life balance. To his surprise, they didn’t resemble the unflattering, blue-collar workers often portrayed in the media. This misperception resulted in an undeniable disparity between available skilled jobs and the unemployed local population. Week after week, Mike saw “Help Wanted” signs everywhere, even when unemployment took over news headlines. Our society didn’t, and still doesn’t, have a trained workforce standing by or willing to fill the positions that actually exist.
“Our crumbling infrastructure, our widening skills gap, the disappearance of vocational education, and the stratospheric rise in college tuition—these are not problems,” Mike said. “These are symptoms of what we value. And right now, we have to reconnect the average American with the value of a skilled workforce. Only then, will the next generation aspire to do the work at hand.”
Now to the top four reasons to work in the trades:
- They are always in demand. There are currently shortages in the number of people who know how to perform many of the skilled trades, and most of the skilled trades are considered recession-proof. With the Baby Boomer generation turning 55-75 this year, there are a significant number of openings with not enough workers aged 35-54 to replace them. Additionally, because of the nature of the work, it is unlikely this type of work will be performed by robots or computer as time goes on.
- High earning potential. Jeremy Anderberg notes that when you look at averages, “the paychecks for trades are either at or above other careers.” He references a study from Michigan which found that the top wages for white collar workers were higher than for blue collar ones, but “the median pay was actually higher for blue collar.” He also found the average starting salary for college graduates was around $48,000. But then he lists the starting salaries for the largest skilled trades careers:
- Maintenance Mechanic: $38,000
- Aircraft Mechanic: $49,000
- Sheet Metal Mechanic: $47,000
- Driver: $51,000
- Electrician: $44,000
- Painter: $35,000
- Machinist: $37,000
- Pipefitter: $49,000
And if you want to pursue management opportunities or even your own business in the trades the earning potential is even better.
- Training is quicker and costs less. For most skilled trades, you can learn while you earn. This means that while some classroom training might be necessary, many of the trades can be learned while you are actually working in the industry. This could be through an apprenticeship or as a regular worker paired with someone who has been in the industry for a while. For the trades that require classroom learning the costs are much less than a college education, and only take from six months to two years.
- Job satisfaction and work-life balance. Multiple surveys show that people in the skilled trades industry report a higher level of job satisfaction than those in other careers. In 2012, job satisfaction overtook job security as the number one factor people valued in their jobs. When it comes to the trades, the type of work may be the same (wiring or plumbing, for example), but where you are doing it and what you are making varies greatly. Additionally, many trade jobs are performed during all shifts or with a three days on/four days off schedule. This gives workers more flexibility than a regular 8-5 desk job might provide. And unlike many white-collar jobs in today’s highly technical environment, your work stays at the job site and cannot bother you during your off hours. It is not like a CNC machine or building site can follow you home and demand your attention during your dinner.
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The important thing to remember is that trades do very important work that is necessary for everyday life. Just because they do not require a college degree does not mean that they are any less valuable. A bridge requires a structural engineer to design it, but we would not have the bridge without the iron workers who build it. While college is not for everyone, the trades are not for everyone either. Just do not rule them out when considering a new profession or a lifelong occupation.