Skilled Trade: Get Paid To Learn

June 8, 2013
Year On TeamPower Skills

Original post by Jean Fan

If you’re anything like me, you realized early on that institutionalized education wasn’t exactly a “fit” for you. Although we know something is severely wrong, what choice do we have? Is it possible to get a college degree without mountains of debt? Can we avoid tossing the proverbial dice in hopes that we will stand out in an abysmal job market?

If you are willing to cast aside your preconceived notions, and judge my proposal solely on facts alone, I actually do have an alternative to getting a degree that not only ensures job security, awesome pay, and benefits, but will also keep you out of debt, and enable you to get paid to learn. I’m talking about learning a skilled trade.

All throughout my life I was always told that I needed to go to college so I could avoid a skilled trade career. Before you dismiss my proposal, consider this; who do you call when the heater or air conditioning is out? When your drain is clogged? When your water heater needs to be replaced? When your house needs to be re-wired? When your car breaks down? A skilled tradesman.

Allow me to further deconstruct any biases or stigmas you may have against “the trades”. First off, skilled trades usually require absolutely no college degree (although 2-year trade/vocational schools do improve your chances of getting hired immediately). Most trades have an apprenticeship program where you get paid to learn your trade on the job, and any classroom training is covered. That means no student loan debt.

Usually, apprenticeships last 4-5 years; equal parts working and learning. Once your apprenticeship is done, the pay for skilled tradesmen is comparable to someone with a Bachelor’s degree. In addition, your skills are also transferable anywhere in the world, your career path is virtually unlimited, and you get to work with your hands in an ever-changing work environment (not chained to a desk the rest of your life). An added benefit is the satisfaction of having something tangible to show for your work.

Yes, certain trades are more physically demanding than a desk job, but take a second and weigh the health risks of sitting in a chair the rest of your life versus being active until retirement. Also, consider that being a skilled tradesman is different from a general, unskilled laborer who simply digs holes or carries around heavy equipment. Yes, the trades are more hands-on and physical, but if you’re like me, there’s no amount of money in the world you could pay me to sit at a desk and stare into a computer monitor for the next 40 years.

According to Forbes, “In 2012, 53 percent of skilled-trade workers in the U.S. were 45 years and older, according to EMSI, and 18.6 percent were between the ages of 55 and 64. Those are just the national figures; in Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey and New Hampshire, more than 60 percent of the skilled-trades labor force is 45 or older.”

Not only does that mean that it is possible to work in a skilled trade up until retirement, but with the majority of the skilled trade workforce retiring soon, there is going to be a massive shortage of workers. That’s good news for someone looking for a career with excellent job security into the foreseeable future.

I’ve known for a few years that college wasn’t for me, but went along with community college classes in the meantime because they were cheap, and people seemed happy with me when I told them I was still “in school”. Over time, I have realized that it is a mistake for me to care so much about what others think. I know several tradesmen who love their career. In the meantime, I have personally decided to apply for an Electrician apprenticeship. Wish me luck!

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