Every May we celebrate National Skilled Trades Day. In September, we acknowledge that the American worker is the backbone of our nation through Labor Day celebrations. In October, we dedicate the entire month to the Manufacturing industry. Why are these jobs a great career option for students?
Not a minute goes by that you don’t interact with something that was made by a skilled tradesman or woman. The house you life in, the roads you drive on, the buildings in which you work and do life…all of these are built and maintained by those in the skilled trades. Without their work, our way of life would cease to exist.
These jobs are valuable. They’re in high demand. They pay well. And they’re perfect for people who love to work with their hands. As we celebrate moments like National Skilled Trades Day, let’s encourage our students to consider careers in these fields!
What do skilled trades workers do? There’s a wide range of industries that need these workers, like construction, healthcare, manufacturing, aerospace, oil & gas, automotive and more. Here are some examples of skilled trades occupations:
These jobs offer the opportunity to work with your hands and actually see the results of your work, which can be rewarding for many people.
Ken Rusk spun his trade experience into his own company, hiring and mentoring hundreds of skilled workers. He’s a successful entrepreneur and well-known advocate for the skilled trades with his book Blue Collar Cash. In an episode of the TechEd Podcast, Rusk talked about the power of working with your hands:
“There’s this stand-back moment that you get. I used to plant pine trees by the hundreds in really high end neighborhoods when I was younger. And we would build rock waterfalls and Koi ponds and all this cool stuff. And at the end of the day, you’d stand back and you’d lean on that shovel and you would look at that and go, ‘Wow, I created that.’ That will stand the test of time. And in 100 years, I could drive back here and look at these pine trees, and they’re still going to be here.”
That stand-back moment is true for anyone in those trades listed above. You can experience the immediate impact of a solid day of hard work. And you get to watch that hard work live on for years to come.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in the skilled trades is projected to grow 4% from 2019 to 2029, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations. The BLS also reports that the median annual wage for skilled trades workers was $48,000 in May 2020, which is higher than the median wage for all workers.
So the jobs are there, and the wages are there – but here’s where the real financial value comes in.
Usually, these jobs require specialized training and education, but not a four-year college degree. Students can attend a trade school or technical and community college to get a career-focused, hands-on education that will give them the skills they need at a fraction of the cost of a university education. And because they enter the workforce years earlier than those who get a four-year degree, they’re earning full-time wages and putting that in the bank and their retirement savings.
Ken Rusk broke down the math for us:
“Let’s assume you’re going to college and you’re not sure why you’re going, and that’s 40% of entrants these days, right? Now let’s assume that college is $40- to $50,000 a year. And you do that for four years. That’s $200,000 on the negative side of your asset balance sheet, right? Hopefully you didn’t borrow that money.
You can literally just have a pulse and start making $50,000 year as a plumber’s assistant or carpenter’s assistant today. Four years of that is $200,000 on the positive side. That’s a $400,000 swing by the time you’re 23 years old, right? I mean, you at least have to think about that. That’s a house. It’s a 401k. That’s a lot of potential wealth building.”
And that’s just to begin with. As skilled tradespeople hone their craft, it’s possible to keep earning higher wages each year. It’s also a great pathway to business ownership and financial freedom.
There are a lot of roads to get into a skilled trade. Here are some examples:
There’s no “right path” into a skilled trade. It all depends on which trade you’re most interested in and what your unique situation is. Students who are in high school can start young, taking advantage of youth apprenticeship programs before they graduate.
Those who want a career transition later in life can always leverage apprenticeships or technical college options, often taking advantage of employer reimbursement for skills training.
In the video above, former State Director of the Wisconsin Apprenticeship System Joshua Johnson talked with us about the value of apprenticeships and the skilled trades. In this conversation, we focused on how today’s apprenticeship model is about far more than learning a skilled trade.
Individuals are flocking to apprenticeships as a career-building opportunity, a way to start a fresh career with limitless opportunities…including those with an entrepreneurial path. This video also features Trueman McGee, who went through the apprenticeship program and later started the Milwaukee-based restaurant Funky Fresh Spring Rolls.
Despite the benefits of skilled trades jobs, there is still a stigma attached to them. Many students are encouraged to pursue a four-year college degree and may not consider the skilled trades as a viable career option. This has contributed to the shortage of skilled workers in many industries. But far worse, certain students are missing out on what could be a rewarding and fulfilling career for them.
National Skilled Trades Day is a chance to change this perception and encourage more young people to consider careers in the skilled trades. Employers and trade organizations can participate by hosting events, offering job shadowing opportunities, and providing information about training and education programs. School districts can partner with employers and trade schools to launch programming that exposes and trains students toward these options.
As we celebrate National Skilled Trades Day, let’s recognize the important role that skilled tradespeople play in our society and encourage more young people to consider these rewarding careers!
At LAB Midwest, our mission is to secure the American dream for the next generation, and that includes students seeking careers in the trades. We equip school districts, career centers, trade schools, technical colleges and training organizations with the curriculum and hands-on training equipment for all these trades. If you’re interested in learning about our training solutions, contact us.