There is no doubt that skilled trades are on the rise but there is still a lot of misinformation around what it's like to work a trade. While a trade may not be for everyone, neither is a traditional four-year college degree. For those of you looking into pursuing a trade we've listed 5 solid benefits to consider.
One of the biggest benefits to working a skilled trade is the amount education required. While there are many positives to going to four years of school for a bachelor’s degree, there are also a few big negatives, including the ever-rising cost of higher education. Since 1990, tuition costs have risen over 300%, far outpacing the growth of the economy. For many people, though, cost isn’t standing in the way, because student loans are easy to come by. For that reason, about 2/3 of students with bachelor’s degrees are leaving college with debt that averages $26,000 per student. All in all, your average bachelor’s degree is likely going to cost you over $100,000 — closer to $150,000 if completely financed through loans.
The vast majority of training programs for the skilled trades, on the other hand, last from 6 months to 2 years, and will cost just over $30,000. Even if that cost is entirely financed by student loans, you’re looking at a total of $40,000, which is still a savings of at least $110,000!
This makes for a huge opportunity cost for those going to 4-year colleges. You’re spending an extra 2-3 years in school, paying tens of thousands per year, while the tradesman is already graduated and earning money (in some cases, making six figures as a 21-year-old).
If we take a look at the averages, which is where most of us are and will be in terms of our career, the paychecks for trades are either at or above other careers. One study of the trades from just the state of Michigan found the above to be true — that the ceiling was higher for white collar, but the median was actually higher for blue collar. The range for the skilled trades (per hour) was $13-$34, for a median of $21/hour. For all other occupations, the range was $8-$39, for a median of $16/hour.
Now, could those numbers be skewed, especially on the low-end, by workers who only have a high school education? Absolutely. So what happens if we just compare national averages for wages earned by college educated white collar employees and tradesmen? They’re almost the same, with white collar folks coming in at $1,000 more per year. Over the course of a 40-year career, that ends up as a fair amount of money. But when you factor in college costs, plus a few more years in the workforce, that difference actually begins to favor the blue collar worker.
Let’s take a look at the starting salaries of the largest skilled trades careers, and you’ll see they match up against the average starting salary for college grads (which is reported to be $48,000 – and let me tell you, I don’t know a single bachelor’s degree holder who started out at that high of a salary!).
Remember, those are the most common blue collar jobs. If you look at the higher end of trades work, you’ll see wages that are much higher than college grads:
Remember, these are base salaries that come just as a result of your having the proper skills. Just like with white collar work, there are many trades fields in which you can move up the ladder and earn far more. If you show management skills and big picture vision, you’ll receive promotions and raises, just as you would in an office setting. You can also start your own business, and use your entrepreneurial, creative, and customer service skills to set yourself apart from the pack, at which point your income potential is as high as your ability to hustle.
Compensation is important, but only the third most important factor in overall job satisfaction. The first is actually “opportunity to use skills and abilities” (more on that below) and the second is job security. So while pay in the trades may be commensurate with white collar work, for some, these other factors will boost this type of work ahead of occupying a cubicle.
In our new economy, complete job security just doesn’t exist. Anything can happen to any company, and you can be let go. But some jobs are a lot more secure than others. Information and tech jobs are particularly vulnerable to being taken over by robots or moved overseas, but even once-secure jobs in the medical and legal sectors have begun to be outsourced as well.
Skilled trades, on the other hand, simply cannot be outsourced. While the world may not always need bloggers, it will always need mechanics, electricians, plumbers, welders, etc. When you’re locked out of your house, you won’t phone a customer service line and deal with robots trying to resolve your issue, you’ll call a locksmith. The roads and bridges in this country will always be built here. Our skyscraper projects won’t be constructed in elsewhere and shipped over. While jobs in the information/tech/customer service sectors can always be shipped away, the careers that require literal hands-on work cannot be.
One of the points that Mike Rowe hammers home in his book, Profoundly Disconnected, is that Americans are disconnected from the things that keep our lives and society running on a daily basis (hence the title of the book). Without the trades, our society would literally crumble. Roads/bridges would go into disrepair. Cars would break down and not be fixed, and new cars wouldn’t be made to replace them. Our electrical grid would shut down and we’d lose power. Plumbing would break down or back up, and we’d all be swimming in our own waste. Not a pretty picture, is it? It may seem sort, but the fact is our infrastructure is falling apart before our eyes. The American Society of Civil Engineers rates it as a D+. 60 Minutes recently did a feature on America’s crumbling infrastructure. This is an incredibly salient issue. Without more skilled tradesmen, it will only get worse.
Trades jobs are not only very secure, there are a lot of openings for them as well.
Among all jobs in the US, workers aged 25-44 make up about 48% of the workforce; among skilled trades jobs that number is 46%, a mere 2-point difference. When you look at the 45-54 age range the picture is very different. That group makes up 23% of the general workforce, but 32% of skilled trades, meaning that millions more tradesmen will be retiring in the next 15 years than white collar professionals.
For the blue collar worker, there are jobs to be had. They may not be in your city of choice, but that’s a reality faced by much more than just tradesmen. Certain industries flock to certain geographical regions (show biz and Hollywood, fashion and NYC, etc.), so to be successful you may have to move. According to some estimates (including Mike Rowe and his foundation, which works to put tradesmen in good careers), there are literally millions of unfilled jobs right now in the skilled trades, with many more to be created in the years to come.
In fact, in just the next two years, an expected 2.5 million middle-skill jobs (those that require less than a bachelor’s degree but more than a high school diploma) will be added to the workforce, accounting for an incredible 40% of all job growth. The city of Houston alone is expected to add 100,000 jobs in that same time period. North Dakota is in the midst of a petroleum boom, requiring not just oil/gas tradesman, but also electricians, plumbers, carpenters, etc. to build up the infrastructure. Atlanta has a booming film industry that employs almost 80,000 people, with many more needed for the technical aspects like setting up lighting and sound, set construction, etc.
All over the country, skilled trades workers are in demand.
Do you want to spend 40 years of your life bored and dissatisfied for most of your day? Obviously not. But that’s what 70% of Americans feel at work, with highly educated people actually being more likely to be disengaged with their workplace. While boredom can obviously happen at any job, the tradesman who’s working with his hands all day simply has less opportunity for disengagement, as boredom at work often happens when there just isn’t enough to do. Idleness is not often a problem for the blue collar man.
Other points to be considered are things like autonomy at work and work/life balance. In an age where most people’s jobs are accessible by internet and smartphone, disconnecting from work is hard to do. You see emails come in at night, and you respond almost without thinking about it. You hop on the computer for a second, and it turns into an hour or two of work because it’s right there, and seems urgent. You become a slave to email, and to your higher-ups, even if that’s not the intention. When you work with your hands, you can come home at night and actually disconnect from your job. You aren’t always “plugged in,” which gives you a better chance to refresh your body and mind for the next day’s work. Of course, you can choose to work after hours if you’d like – but you’ll also be able to charge your customers a premium for your services if you do!
One final factor is simply the satisfaction that can come from doing something tangible with your time. Fixing things, building things, seeing the actual, physical fruit of your labor; this is often far more personally fulfilling than spending 8 hours on an excel spreadsheet. Working in an office, you often find it difficult to see any tangible result from your efforts. What exactly have you accomplished at the end of any given day? In fact, in our modern economy, 40% of jobs are related to coordinating and mediating rather than actually doing something directly.
When you are weighing which type of education or job to peruse it is important to consider many factors. Pay, job security, balance, work environment, etc. For too long the skilled trades have been neglected as not having any benefits. Thankfully, the tide is turning, and people are starting to see that blue collar work offers some real advantages over white collar work. There are jobs available, pay is good, job security is excellent, and the satisfaction may be greater than being in the information industry.
Tradeworthy Jobs was created specifically for people looking to enter a trade career or further their trade skills. Download the app today from the Google Play Store or the Apple App Store to find out more.