Getting Your Hands Dirty: Why You Should Consider a Trade Profession

At a time when paying someone $40,000 to get your kid into college and “helicopter” parenting is becoming more and more commonplace, is it no wonder that many high school graduates these days seem fixated on getting into a good 4-year university?

A somewhat recent graduate myself, I understand this “new equation” that many young people are led to believe is the only one that will lead them to success.

Good Grades + Good College = Corporate Career + Happiness & Success

At the fancy, private, college-prep high school I attended this was the mantra that was chanted everyday: get good grades, go to a good college, land the corner office and live happily ever after. I internalized it, lived it and am working my way toward happily ever after.

But I often wonder about the careers that seem to get overlooked in today’s college counseling offices—vocational or technical careers that don’t require a bachelor’s degree. It seems that in our “education is everything” society, trade jobs such as plumbers, electricians and railroad workers—blue collar workers—face severe labor shortages as boomer-age workers retire and there are no new Generation Y workers willing to take their place.

According to Roger Thompson, Puget Sound Energy spokesman in Seattle:

“We’re very aggressively recruiting the next generation of line workers. It’s not unique to us or City Light; it’s true across the nation.”

I have several friends who decided to skip college and go straight into the electrical trade. Sure they missed out on drunken frat parties, shared living spaces and an intellectually stimulating environment, but what they gained was 4-year’s worth of income and job experience. One friend had enough saved up to buy a house by the time he was 21. Don’t know too many college graduates who can say that.

And yet I have other friends who went the college route, got that corner office and found themselves hating the corporate life. I bumped into one such college friend at a restaurant over the holidays—he was my waiter. Turns out he was waiting tables while he put himself through carpentry school. Even though he went to school full time during the day and worked double shifts at night, he said that to him, it was still better than working in an office.

I’m not advocating trade careers for everyone. In contrast to the great starting salaries and excellent benefits, trade jobs usually require long hours outside with lots of travel. But what I want to emphasize is that if you’re sitting there hating your corporate job, realize that there is a whole other world of work out there beyond your cubicle that pays just as well for what you can do with your hands in addition to what you can do with your mind.


7 responses »

  1. As an example of how far you can go with a trade school education, I offer the tale of my father. After escaping from the communists, he ended up as a refugee by himself in a camp.Trade school was the only option for him. He studied mold making for plastics. After coming to this country, he eventually worked his way up to being the chief engineer and then the R&D department for an international firm. Trade schools do not necessarily lead to a dead end career.

    One concern for me though is that the educational system in this country is geared for a college education. I think that as a society, we have to look into ways of developing a trade school program that emulates the European model, but with features which fit into the beliefs and needs for the United States.

  2. Excellent point frankschulteladbeck! That’s exactly what I was trying to get at. Our educational system today seems to put all of its emphasis on college to the detriment of vocational programs.

  3. I’ve always thought Apex technical training for welding would be worthwhile, just to be able to build stuff. Theres a whole field of Mechatronics which then becomes extremely appealing.

  4. Honestly, one of my happiest positions has been shelving books at a library. Unfortunately it doesn’t really pay well. But I’ve thought that once my husband gets a job which can basically support us (he’s a PhD student, he really loves teaching) I might do it.

  5. Now they tell us. I’m in my fifties, graduated HS in 1974, and believe me, I tried mighty hard to enter a trade. In the 70’s and 80’s, the trades were doing what we now call downsizing.
    In the 1950’s, for example, a new ten story building required several dozen electricians to wire it. By the nineties, that same brand new ten story building required maybe ten electricians to wire it up to code.

    If the building and transport trades are having difficulty recruiting young people, they have nobody but themselves to blame. As technology, design and logistical innovations enabled the trades to use fewer and fewer tradespeople to do the same amount of work, nobody envisioned a time when that trend would bottom out. Nevertheless, young people have a choice that people my age — “late boomers?” — did not necessarily have. Not only does working as a plumber or electrician get you into the workforce sooner, it also saves you money — or saves your parents money, in that they won’t be struggling with college tuition and fees.

  6. Pingback: How Mom and Dad Outsmart Those Ivy-League Schools : Brazen Careerist - A Career Center for Generation Y

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