How to get into Tradelife

What is Trade Life™ all about? 

Living a life working with a skill

You’re interested in learning a trade and making a profession of it, but you’re not sure what that life will be like.  Maybe your parents worked a trade and you got a glimpse of it through them, or maybe you have no idea- you just know that for one reason or another, a trade is calling you.  You have worries though:

What will your days and nights be like?  Will you be able to make a comfortable living?  Will you be able to do the work?  What kind of toll will it take on your body?  Will you have job security?

If you have these worries, you’re not alone.  The life of a trade professional is uniquely different than many other career paths, and entering an unfamiliar field is naturally worrisome.  However, the more you learn about life and a career in the trades, the more you will see that it is unique- uniquely challenging, uniquely rewarding, uniquely stable, and uniquely satisfying.

The entry-point to a career in the trades is the same as the entry point to most other careers- education.  However, in contrast to a four-year degree required of most white-collar jobs, education in a trade is inexpensive, often subsidized by an employer or union, and accompanied with hands-on experience in the form of an apprenticeship.  While a traditional four-year Bachelor’s Degree can cost as much as $400,000, a trade will never cost more than $40,000 (if that much), and you will be working full-time, earning money while you work towards your formal certification.  For example, a typical plumbing apprentice attends school two evenings per week while working 45-50 hours per week with a licensed plumbing company.  The apprentice is on the job, working with mechanics every day, learning a variety of skill sets that will be required upon licensure.  Most trades have different levels of certification that require different levels of experience and education.  Again using plumbing as an example, after two to three years as an apprentice, completion of an educational program, and satisfaction of your state’s experience requirements, you will be eligible to sit for the Journeyman Plumber Exam, which after passing you will become a Journeyman Plumber.  Then, in most states, after one year of additional experience, you can sit for the Master Plumber’s Exam and be eligible to work independently.  In a little more than the time it typically takes to complete a Bachelor’s Degree, and for far less money, you can be qualified to earn $50 per hour or more and run your own business.  That is how you get your foot in the door to work in a trade, but what is actually working in a trade like?

First, freedom- working in a trade provides a tremendous amount of freedom.  Trade professionals typically are not burdened by as much debt as their white-collar counterparts (student loans, anyone?), but the average trade professional earns roughly the same amount as the average white-collar employee.  That gives trade professionals the freedom to do more with their money- buy a house or car, travel, invest for retirement, send their kids to college if they choose… the sky is the limit!  Trade professionals also enjoy the freedoms of greater job security, flexibility, and transportability than white-collar professions, and trade jobs typically can’t be outsourced, so there will always be a steady job if you want it, wherever you are.  This will only increase in the future, as more trade professionals are retiring in the next fifteen years than white-collar professionals.  In the next two years, trade jobs are expected to account for 40% of all job growth.

Second, trade professionals enjoy an ideal work/life balance.  Trade professionals typically work 8-10 hour days, 40-50 hours per week.  Most importantly though, unless you choose to work after hours or start your own company, when you’re off you’re off.  Trade professionals don’t have to check work email at the dinner table or write up reports on a Sunday night.  As a trade professional, you will work hard when you are at work, but your own time is just that- your own time.

Finally, and most importantly, trade professionals enjoy higher than average levels of job satisfaction.  This is likely the result of being more connected to the work being performed.  As a trade professional, you will likely be working with your hands, doing something tangible and concrete- fixing things, building things, and seeing the physical fruit of your labor.  Work will never be boring.  You will likely be in a different location every day, performing different work every day, with a team of like-minded people, breathing in fresh air as you work.  Don’t let anyone tell you that life in the trades isn’t intellectually stimulating either.  As a trade professional, you will be creatively problem solving every day.  As one plumber put it, “most anybody can learn how to change an angle stop or replace a flapper in their toilet tank, but knowing actually how plumbing works and determining issues and plumbing problems” is what plumbers do every day.

Just like college is not for everyone, the trades are not for everyone.  They can involve hard work, heavy lifting, early mornings, mud, dirt, grime, and harsh weather conditions. However, for many people, the trades provide a rewarding career and a comfortable life.