Once upon a time, people grew up to work at whatever job they could find, and were thankful for being able to put bread on the table. My great uncle was thrilled with a job that made 75 cents/hour, rappelling down a cliff, at night, with weak electric lights, to place dynamite charges in the cliff face. No safety gear, no hard hats, and seeing men occasionally killed by falling rocks hitting them as they worked. The Great Depression had just ended, and a consistent income was worth the risk.
Many years later, America decided that really good jobs meant wearing a suit and tie. Being college educated and “white collar” rather than working with your hands and “blue collar”. Around the same time, colleges around the country became much bigger business. We started seeing fancy commercials on television and they put out bright full-color brochures for high school kids. College was “IT” if you wanted to amount to something great in life. The end result: far fewer people choosing to enter the “trades”.
Fast forward to today. Colleges cost more than ever before, and student debt is a HUGE issue. It is entirely possible to spend so much on your education that you end up living in Mom’s basement until well into your 30’s to get your student loans paid off. Many students studied the field they most love, without giving any thought to the actual jobs that would be open to them. I share with my students that they CAN choose to major in Medieval French Poetry, and get a doctorate in it, but there is NO guarantee they will ever find someone to hire them for it. Sure, study poetry if you want to, but major in a field with lots of job openings.
Another thing that is happening today: the trades are in trouble. Very few people have gone into them compared to many years ago, so as people in the trades age out, there are fewer and fewer folks replacing them. While supply is low, demand is HIGH. So, what are “the trades” exactly? They are the people you call when you need something built, repaired or maintained. The people who keep our world running. They are also going to be VERY WELL PAID people for quite some time, because when supply is low, wages are high.
I went on a field trip to the local community college, and saw their diesel mechanic program. One of the teachers shared with my students that “all of the diesel mechanics in our country are welding their tool boxes to their walkers!”. He had just graduated two students who were hired for jobs even before they finished the program…and both started at over $100,000 a year. Diesel mechanics. Making over $100K. Having only two years of education after high school. I confess, I had no idea that the trades could be that lucrative. I have since heard many similar stories.
So, how do you know if the trades are going to be a good choice? With my students, I ask for a show of hands: who loved Lego’s as a kid? Who has a hobby that means working with their hands? Who hates the idea of working in a little cubical, but likes the idea of working outside? Who would rather do things with their hands than work on a computer or spend time reading books? Who likes the idea of working with a team? Or of working independently? Who is interested in running their own business someday? If a student answers “yes” to any of these, they should consider a career in the trades.
If this sounds like a direction you want to go, I want you to do something important: Job Shadow. Find your local tradesman and ask him/her about where they went to school and what the process is for entering that trade. Ask to spend a few hours with them on a job. Ask them what they like best about it, and what they like least. Lastly, ask them which classes you might take in high school to help you enter that trade.
One VERY IMPORTANT thing for students to consider: If you are EVER convicted of DUI or minor in possession of alcohol, it may close the door on entering a trade you want. Why? Many of trades require you to drive a company vehicle, and you will not be able to do that with an alcohol-related infraction on your drivers license. My favorite thing is showing kids all of the doors open to you….and helping you not shut any you may want to go through later.
The old name, “Trade School” has been replaced on the FAFSA by the term “Career School”. I like that. When you are looking at the education part of entering a trade, look at both trade-specific schools and community colleges. In my area, the community college tends to be much less expensive. Find out if the school is accredited, because if it is NOT, you will not be able to use any FAFSA monies there. Also ask about their graduation rates and job placement. If you have several to choose from, look at the costs and scholarships available from each and pick the one that fits your budget the best. If a student has dreams of owning their own business, the community college will offer classes to help learn that part of the trade, while a traditional trade school may not.
Lastly, if you are considering a trade, look into the Mike Rowe Works scholarship. It is specific for students wanting to enter a trade. He has been speaking about the current shortage in the trades, and is a great spokesman for the choice to go to Career School rather than four year college. Because of the huge need for people to enter the trades, this creates a unique opportunity for students right now. Doors are open, jobs are waiting, so this might be an amazing opportunity for YOU.