If you’re graduating from high school soon, this is an exciting time in your life. You have so many options, and it can be difficult to know the best decision for you. Here we’ll cover why a trade job might be the right choice.
What Is a Skilled Trade Worker?
By casual definition, a skilled trade worker is someone who works in a labor-related job that will require specialized training. An electrician, carpenter, bricklayer and tile setter are good examples of skilled trade workers. A lot of the work that involves skilled trade is manually laborious and physically taxing. A lot of skilled trade workers own their own businesses, working for themselves.
That said, a good number of skilled tradespeople end up working for medium and large companies. Most of the time, skilled trade workers work a full-time schedule. Their hours can be longer than the typical 40 hours per week. There is a lot of evening, weekend and emergency work. Oftentimes, they are working toward an important construction deadline that needs to be met.
The very minimum educational prerequisite for most skilled trade positions for this field is a high school diploma. There is no requirement for the typical four-year college degree. Many tradespeople develop skills through apprenticeship programs. Those participating in apprenticeships learn skills on the job while being taught under the employ of a master trade worker. Additionally, many attend technical or trade schools, which we will discuss later.
The Shortage of Tradespeople
The shortage of tradespeople is one that affects the entire country. Contractors in Houston, Texas, which was hard-hit by Hurricane Harvey in 2017, have been struggling to find workers to help rebuild homes that were destroyed in the storm. The demand is high for skilled trade workers. Trade school representatives are saying not a day goes by that companies aren’t calling them to see if any current students are ready and available to start working. The National Association of Home Builders recently found that 82 percent of its members think the availability of tradespeople and the cost of labor are their biggest problems. Compare this to 2011, when only thirteen percent of its members believed their biggest problem was labor costs.
A low inventory of houses paired with an increasing demand for new homes in the United States means it’s time for a big boom in construction contracts. The problem is a shortage of construction workers, halting new projects waiting in the pipeline. Construction spending in 2017 peaked in November, reaching over $1 trillion. All the demand and money in the world cannot remedy the construction industry’s persistent labor shortfall. The tremendous chasm between unfilled jobs and the available number of skilled workers has increased the time and money spent on a lot of ongoing construction projects. They desperately need more skilled workers.
The disastrous recession that occurred in 2008 had a considerable impact on the construction industry regarding workers. Over 1.5 million home construction workers left the industry after the recession. Less than half of the jobs lost have returned, making it both more difficult and more expensive for homebuilding companies to fill a roster of employees. Additionally, much of the workforce is ready to age out into retirement. The building trades have a mean age of about 50 years old. Storms like Harvey and Florence only increase the need for skilled workers.
While a deficit of trade workers is pushing wages higher in the field of skilled trades, the financial benefits of holding a bachelor’s degree are declining. Additionally, the student loan debt that college students take on keeps going up. This all makes a trade career look like a good option for many.
High school students are often encouraged to work toward a bachelor’s degree instead of entering training programs that teach and develop trade skills. This type of training usually costs far less than a traditional college or university, takes less time to complete and can earn these newly-minted tradespeople a high-paying job.
Some Reasons for the Skilled Trades Shortage
The shortage of skilled workers seems to worsen every day. By some estimates, for every one trade worker entering the industry, five retire.
The general shortage of skilled trade workers in the construction sector — which covers a variety of skilled backgrounds in HVAC, plumbing, pipefitting and electrical work — is prevalent all over the U.S. The older cohort of skilled trade workers are retiring a lot quicker than the rate which they are being replaced. According to stats provided by the Associated General Contractors of America (AGCA), about 70 percent of U.S. construction firms are having a difficult time finding suitable trade workers.
Many changes intersected to cause the current shortage of trade workers. Some reasons for the shortage include:
- The near-extinction of shop class: Shop class is a distant memory in high schools today. For a lot of people, the shop class was their first discovery of a real hands-on work experience that could pique interest in a trade career. The budgetary cuts due to the No Child Left Behind program meant that many schools completely cut out the shop and mechanical classes to focus on math and science — all to help more students prepare for college.
- The Great Recession of 2008: The financial crash of 2008 exacerbated the already bleak situation for skilled trades. Many contractors shuttered their businesses and didn’t return when the economy eventually bounced back. An overwhelming number of experienced, veteran tradespeople left the industry, thus leaving not only unfilled jobs but also an empty space where new worker trainers were needed. The construction industry — which encompasses the work of various tradespeople such as electricians, bricklayers, pipefitters, plumbers and HVAC specialists — has only brought back a third of the jobs lost during the recession.
- Family disinterest: Many in the trade industry learned their craft from the parents, grandparents or other family members. Businesses are often family-based and have been around for two or more generations. Many trade workers aging out of the industry have children who have no interest in joining the family business.
Why High School Graduates Should Consider Trade Jobs
It’s a fact that a traditional college education isn’t for everyone, just as carpentry or ironworking isn’t for some people. Still, it is wise to consider trade jobs. There are many from which to choose. There are approximately 30 million jobs in the U.S. that will pay a median of $55,000 a year that do not require a four-year college degree. There are plenty of trade jobs for high school graduates.
Everyone has different circumstances. Based on your specific situation, career goals, grades and interests, a trade school program might be the most sensible choice right after high school. That said, you can always pursue a four-year degree later on down the road if you decide it’s something you truly want.
The following are a few reasons why pursuing trade jobs is a great choice for high school grads:
- Less time and money spent on learning a trade means immediate employment: Unless you’re fortunate enough to obtain a full college scholarship, a student loan debt will likely be a significant part of life if you choose to pursue a four-year degree. Most trade jobs require much less classroom time than traditional colleges. They also cost a lot less to earn a diploma or complete a class for certifications.
- You don’t need a bachelor’s degree: A rising number of career paths in technology, healthcare, HVAC, construction, and agriculture are open to job hunters who possess a certificate, vocational diploma or an associate’s degree from community colleges or vocational schools. Most likely, you’ll be hired even before you complete your training program.
- Tradespeople are in high demand: Many of the positions mentioned above are in very high demand and expected to rise for quite some time. And due to the demand, experienced trade workers could easily earn over $50,000 per year, plus benefits.
- Job security: Another truly gratifying advantage of pursuing trade jobs after high school is job security. Post-trade school, you’ll notice that almost all the jobs you get will not be the types that are easily outsourced to another country. These days, more and more positions are being shipped off to other countries for less expensive labor. Outsourcing a Customer Care Representative or Software Programming job to another country is a lot easier than attempting to outsource an HVAC specialist or welder’s post.
Tips for Starting a Career in Trade
If pursuing a career in skilled trade has been on your mind, start organizing all the information you collect about different trade jobs, schools, potential apprenticeships and potential contacts you might have. The following tips should be helpful in beginning your skilled trade journey:
- Pick a trade or two: Seek out information on one or two trades that you like or find really interesting. This choice should also combine well with a potential position that is considered to be in high demand in your area.
- Conduct plenty of research: Check out the skilled trade job postings in your geographical area. If you find something unfamiliar, you might even find a new potential career. A lot of research will help you select fields you may not have considered before.
- Visit your high school guidance counselor or career counselor: Make an appointment with your high school guidance counselor to talk about your interest in a trade career. They should be able to give you more information about technical schools or junior apprenticeship programs.
- Network through friends and family: If your guidance counselor doesn’t have much information for you, connect with your relatives, friends or acquaintances. Ask people if they know anyone in the fields you find interesting, and try to schedule a meeting with someone who might be willing to talk to you about potential career path advice.
- Certain trades can offer transfer-friendly career paths: Going after a field of work that offers flexibility is something to consider because different areas have different demands for various skilled trade jobs. Specific fields have skill sets that you can transfer to different parts of the country. For example, an electrician can work almost anywhere.
- Seek out pre-apprenticeship programs: Many trade schools have pre-apprenticeship programs that will help prepare students for the trade industry. These programs will allow students to try out different fields to see which ones they like.
- Gauge interests at home: If you can’t join a pre-apprenticeship program, think hard about the things at which you excel. If you’re a great cook, consider going to cooking school. If you invest energy and time working on a car you love, consider applying to an auto mechanic trade school.
- Take on a specialty: Specializing in a niche area is a smart idea if you desire the title of “expert” in a specific field. An example of a niche or specialty would be a builder who knows stonework and flagstones for garden paths or driveways. That known specialty can really elevate your bottom line.
- Keep on learning: Once you have a degree or certificate and have completed your apprenticeship, do not stop the learning process. Professional development is vital to a lucrative, rewarding career in the skilled trade industry. Constant curiosity and learning will help you earn additional certifications and continue expanding your knowledge base.
Apprenticeships Are Vital
The best trade jobs for high school graduates should offer an apprenticeship. An apprenticeship lets a person learn a skilled trade by working right next to experienced, professional tradespeople. One of the best parts is that you get paid while you learn a skill. Apprentices will become full-fledged skilled workers after they expand their abilities and depth of knowledge. These apprenticeships may involve an exam before you can receive full certification. Some fantastic jobs that start with apprenticeships include the following:
- Elevator Installers and Repairers
- Pile-Driver Operators
- Plumbers, Pipefitters and Steamfitters
- Structural Iron and Steel Workers
Choosing a Vocational School
After you have narrowed your skilled trade interests down to a few industries you find interesting, you will need to find a school where you can earn a diploma, degree or the certifications you will need to start your journey toward your skilled trade career.
- Check out admissions criteria: Every vocational institute has specific criteria for admissions. You will most likely have to complete an application and submit your transcripts from high school. You may or may not be asked to take a placement exam to determine your depth of knowledge. You should be able to find most school’s admissions criteria online.
- Research graduates’ job placement stats: Look into each school’s job placement records and stats of the graduates who completed the specific programs you’re considering. A lot of schools offer career services or career fairs. Some will even try to help graduates find apprenticeships.
- Determine the costs: Vocational schools are a less expensive alternative to a traditional four-year college, but there will still be tuition, books and other fees to pay. Along with that will be your daily living costs. Will you work while you attend school? Where will you live? A lot of schools offer financial aid, grants, scholarships and loans. Figure out who offers what, and don’t be afraid to ask questions so you’re well-informed.
Start Your Trade Career at Vista College
If you’re interested in a trade job, consider starting your education at Vista College. We have programs starting every five weeks, so you don’t have to wait a long time to enroll. We offer Diploma and Degree trade programs in construction, electrical tech, HVAC maintenance, industrial mechanics and logistics and operations management. Contact us today to learn more about all the programs we offer.
Still not convinced?
Check out our infographic below that profiles some advantages of the skilled labor career path.