Working at a desk isn’t for everyone. Read how careers in the skilled trades can be as fulfilling as white collar jobs.
Imagine that you’re walking with your family through your hometown a few decades from today. You pass many landmarks. Later, you stop in front of a beautiful skyscraper. You point and tell your grandchildren, “I helped build this huge building.”
This is the power of working with your hands. When you build and fix things for a living, you get to see the fruit of your labor and leave a legacy. This is how fulfilling a trades career can be.
Filling the Skilled Trades Shortage
As baby boomers retire, the improving economy needs more Millennials in the trades. There has been a major need and shortage of skilled laborers since the Great Recession. Unfortunately, the media doesn’t paint a flattering picture of blue collar jobs in this day and age. The younger workforce tends to believe that getting a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree is only the key to success. Many Millennials are taught that trades jobs yield no future, which isn’t true. Traditional college offers a lot, but it’s not for everyone. Despite the high school and college graduate salary gap, blue collar professionals have potential to earn more than those with Bachelor’s degrees.
When College Isn’t For You
Not everyone wants to work in an office daily, which is okay. Some people find it more fulfilling to work with their hands. Desk-less careers require “hands-on” work, which is always in demand and won’t be outsourced. Vocational schools offer a variety of diploma and associate’s degree programs in fields like Information Technology, healthcare, manufacturing, and much more. With so many specialties offered, students can find a field of study that embraces their talents. After students choose a career path, they learn both in the classroom and “on site” to become marketable in the workforce.
What’s Trade School Like?
Many universities have large lecture halls, with up to 100+ students per class. Imagine how hard it would be to form relationships with professors or even just get an appointment with one! Trade school students are less likely to feel lost in the crowd since they’re on a small campus. Unlike universities, technical college class sizes are small, which helps students get to know their classmates and professors well. Students also may find it easier to network with industry professionals on a smaller campus.
Many trade school graduates apply for apprenticeships for paid job training. Apprenticeship lengths vary, but the pay increases each year. Depending on he field, some apprenticeship programs may not require an associate’s degree or diploma.
College Versus Trade School Costs
Research shows that traditional college graduates don’t always work in their field. Some may take a job that better pays off their student loans. Others may struggle to find a job in their field or decide they don’t enjoy working in their field. How frustrating would it be to invest four years in a major you won’t use? But since the trades are always in demand, there are endless job opportunities. On average, technical diplomas and associate’s degrees can take two years, depending on the field, with less than half the cost compared to traditional college.
Top 6 Trades Careers
Below are just a few careers in the skilled trades that stable and in high demand. Education and apprenticeship requirements vary based on the field and state, as does pay.
- Service/field technician. Service/field technicians are part of the mobile workforce. They visit customer sites rather than working in an office. A service tech’s main duties are installing, repairing and providing maintenance on many products. This could include anything from HVAC units to computer network systems. Office dispatchers often send field techs to customer sites when problem is too complex for the Help Desk. Service techs commonly work in industries like construction, cable, IT networking, HVAC, landscaping and more.
Since field techs aren’t supervised at customer sites, they must know how to think outside of the box to solve customer problems. Being able to lift heavy objects is a plus. After completing a job, techs must log their work orders and maintain customer records. Some companies still use papers for work orders,but field service software is changing this. Many service techs today enter records over a tablet, laptop or Smartphone via a field service software app.
The average field service technician salary is $19.45 per hour and can go up to almost $50 per hour on a management level. Some advanced job titles are: operations manager, quality engineer, project manager, and service manager.
- Boilermaker. In a nutshell, boilermakers install, repair and maintain boilers. To assemble a unit, they use blueprints to determine parts positions, locations and sizes. Their secondary duties include repairing furnaces, water treatment plants, and process tanks.
In 2016, The Association of Union Constructors surveyed 791 contractors and found that 65% of respondents reported a shortage of boilermakers. The median boilermaker salary in 2016 was $29.84 per hour ($62,060 per year).
Since the job involves assembly, boilermakers must have good stamina, a steady hand and eye for detail. Though injury rate is low, boilermakers mostly work outdoors in extreme temperatures and heights with heavy machinery.
Becoming a boilermaker requires a high school diploma and apprenticeship at minimum. Apprentices learn construction methods like welding and crane operation, as well as how to read blueprints. Having a welder certification makes it easier to get an apprenticeship, which can be done in a vocational school.
- Construction Contractor. The shortage of union craft labor is increasing. The job outlook of construction is expected to grow 13% by 2024. Construction is for those who enjoy outdoor work, don’t fear heights, and have basic math skills. Before trade school, many start as unskilled laborers who do simple duties like cleaning construction sites.
Many unskilled laborers do trade school in two years and then an apprenticeship. Apprenticeship length varies per state, but pay increases with every year. Through both school and training, apprentices learn how to read blueprints, select building materials, and may earn an OSHA certification.
The construction field offers many certification courses in skills like plumbing, electrical work, carpentry, and aviation. On average, general contractors earn less than those with specialties. In 2016, the median salary for construction laborers was $32,230. However, the median pay for carpenters was a little over $43,000 and the median pay for electrician was at $52,720.
- Machinist. Also known as tool and die makers, machinists produce precision metal parts for industries like aerospace, food processing, medical, and solar. Most machinists use CNC (computer controlled) machines to mill, cut, lubricate and cool parts.
Becoming a machinist requires at least a high school diploma/GED and trade school. After trade school, graduates apply for apprenticeships. Apprentices work in a shop where they learn how to create mechanical drawings, read blueprints and apply safety practices. Many start as machinist assistants and work their way up from there. If you want to become a machinist, you must have at least basic math skills to write and modify programs. However, to work in advanced industries (i.e. aerospace), you must use calculus and physics.
As of 2016, the median pay is $20.75 per hour. In a few years, the pay could go to $50,000 per year and even $100,000 per year for veteran machinists.
- Rotary Drill Operator.This job involves the use of drilling equipment to extract oil and gas from underground. A rotary drill operator’s main duties are moving, cleaning and placing equipment, bolting engine parts, digging and lining holes, and connecting drill pipes with hand tools. Petroleum engineers usually create drilling plans while drill operators do the drilling When they are not extracting oil or gas, rotary drill operators may help maintain equipment.
A high school education at minimum is required to be a rotary drill operator, since most jobs provide training. Companies may also require a Class A or B commercial driving license to operate trucks on the job. A welder certification may also come in handy to stand apart from your competition. Besides oil and gas, rotary drill operators can work in many industries from mining, construction, scientific research, engineering services and more.
In 2016, rotary drill operator was one of the highest paid oil and gas industry jobs in Texas. Right now, the median U.S. median salary is a little over $60,000, while the very experienced individuals earn over $40 per hour.
- Aircraft Mechanic. Aircraft mechanics repair and help maintain aircraft to make sure helicopters and plans operate safely. Most work in repair stations, airfields or hangars, where they climb under or on top of units to replace parts, examine damage and perform inspections that the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) requires. Aircraft mechanics use computer systems and tools to repair many different types of systems. They must adhere to strict flight schedule deadlines.
To be an aircraft mechanic, you must be detail oriented, good at problem solving, and deadline driven. A steady hand aids in doing accurate work. Having high stamina also helps since the job is very physical. This job is also very high pressure, and may require you to work on weekends or overtime.
The median aircraft mechanic salary in 2016 was almost $30 per hour. To become certified, the FAA requires at least 18 months of power plant or air-frame experience, or 30 months of both. Alternately, FAA-Approved Aviation Maintenance Technical Schools take just two years to complete. Once aircraft mechanics are certified, they can choose to work in private, corporate or government sectors.
Why More Millennials Should Pursue Careers in the Trades by Mrinal Gokhale