Steps to Launching your Career in the Skilled Trades


engineer teaching apprentices to use computerized lathe

  1. Vocational School
    In addition to obtaining a GED or high school diploma, a career in the skilled trades requires vocational training. This training will provide you with a more in depth understanding of the field of your choice
  2. Apprenticeship
    An apprenticeship will provide on-the-job training as well as job-related technical instruction helping to advance your career.
  3. License
    Finally it is required to obtain a license in your specified field. A license typically requires the passage of an exam pertaining to your trade and 2-5 years of experience. Requirements vary from state to state.

*Use the following link to check requirements in your state: https://explorethetrades.org/what-we-do/trainingjobs/licensing-information/

Skilled Trades as a Path to Entrepreneurship

The hard work that goes into running a cafe

Small businesses are critical to local economies.  Local economies without healthy and vibrant small businesses perform much more poorly than those with them.  Small businesses provide employment opportunities, and bring innovation both to local communities and the broader national economy by attracting talent interested in inventing new products or implementing new solutions for existing ideas.  According to United States Small Business Association data, small businesses represent 99.7% of all employer firms, generated 64% of new jobs since 1995, and in that same time paid 44% of the total United States private payroll.

For decades, fewer and fewer small businesses have been opening.  According to the Kauffman Foundation, the number of companies less than one year old declined as a share of all businesses by approximately 44% between 1978 and 2012.  The Brookings Institution found that this trend exists across the country, and that more businesses are currently dying than being born in the United States.  This is bad for the whole economy, job growth, innovation, and the fiber of local communities.

There may, however, be a savior for this problem: middle-skill jobs.  Middle-skill jobs require education beyond high school, but do not require a four-year degree and they are currently in high demand across the United States.  Andrew Pack, Senior Community Development Specialist notes, “a workforce well equipped to perform middle-skill jobs can yield additional economic benefits, such as small business creation.”

Demand for these types of jobs currently outweighs the supply. According to the National Skills Coalition, demand for middle-skilled jobs takes up 35% of the market while supply of these jobs only holds 43% of the nation’s workforce. There is a portion of the economy remaining untapped due to lack of workers and training.

Skilled Trades are middle-skill jobs.  They require some sort of technical education or other certification beyond a high school diploma, but do not require a four-year college degree.  These include, among others, skilled construction jobs, such as carpenters, electricians, sheet metal workers, and operating engineers; skilled industrial jobs, such as machinists, electrical installers, welders, and tool and dye makers; skilled service jobs, such as dental hygienists, medical technicians, auto body repair workers, and chefs.

Below are the economics of skilled trades by the numbers:

Metal Wheel Concept

  • Macro photo of tooth wheel mechanism with ABILITY, SKILL, KNOWLEDGE concept words
  • Average job growth rate outlook for skilled trades occupations in the United States is 8% through 2024;
  • Median wages exceed the median annual wage of $37,000 for all United States workers;
  • Skilled construction $48,109;
  • Skilled industrial: $48,249;
  • Skilled service: $42,080.

(see our articles on specific skilled trades to view wages for individual trades, such as plumbing, electrician, welder, etc.)

A path in skilled trades provides an alternative to the ever-rising cost of a college education. Students are still being offered the potential success of a job in a competitive field while not having to take on loads of student debt that has become usual to college-aged students. According to U.S. News, the total average cost of vocational training is around $33,000. This cost savings makes a career in the skilled trades ever more appealing.

Andrew Pack further states “demand for employees in the skilled trades corresponds with the need for entrepreneurs and small-business owners to create businesses to employ those workers.”  Pack explains “it is also a major opportunity for individuals who have successfully learned a skilled trade to start their own business or career pathway.”

Career training in the skilled trades helps businesses grow and can also help create more small businesses.  This works best when entrepreneurship is paired with on-the-job training, apprenticeship, and increasing entrepreneurial and business skills as a part of the career pathway.  Facilitated effectively, the skilled trades can be small business drivers of economic growth and the savior of the American economy.

Finding Employment

Plumber or electrician standing next to vanIf you are looking to join the workforce with a pre-existing skilled trades company, you can find potential job opportunities by using the links below: