A Career in the Trades

The American Dream

For decades the dream of most American parents has been to send their kids to college. It’s true enough that even today, if you step out into the marketplace or into private parties or office buildings, the people with what look like comfortable careers and upward mobility have college degrees.

In fact, we can all probably recall an occasion when someone spouted that not only was a college degree a necessity for a life of viable income and self-esteem, but it mattered a great deal which school one went to for secondary education and beyond. Humph!

However, the photo shared around the internet of the college grad donning an emerald blue college graduation gown and cap, with the tassel sitting on his frowning face as he sits on a milk crate by the side of the road with a sign reading, “Will work for food” has a lot of people scared. The average college grad has over $23,000 in student loan debt and diminishing job prospects in today’s market.

“More than half of America’s recent college graduates are either unemployed or working in a job that doesn’t require a bachelor’s degree.” (1)

The Real American Dream

The real American Dream would be what was underneath the apparent American Dream: A worthy life with a sense of security, enjoyment and the pride of achievement, hopefully along with the luxury of pursuing more fulfilling ambitions than just paying bills or worse, fretting over finance; to rise at least slightly above economics, raise a family and love your country.

More and more we are not only realizing the truth in the above but along with it recognizing the worth of skilled tradespeople and even unskilled but brave and honest laborers. It is more like a caste system than a free enterprise society that scorns the least skilled of us.

The Great Recession

The Great Recession has, like a receding wave from the shore, revealed underpinnings of our society that we were either disconnected from or chose to ignore.

Before the deification of formal education perhaps honest and able tradesmen and women were more admired and their societal roles better understood. Perhaps this disconnect grows as we get further and further from the sources and means of production.

In other words, as we fill our carts at Walmart we are basically unaware of the farmer, the butcher, the seamstress, the toy maker, the cobbler, and the electrician. But without them there is no Walmart, and no Walmart Effect, which has given the poorest of us a higher standard of living than the world has ever known thanks to cheap products.

At no other time in the history of man have the destitute owned televisions and been overweight! Think about that! Advances in mass production and the new global economy would seem to have injured the skilled trades, and they have, but we are coming in to a new awareness thanks to the Great Recession.

The Great Opportunity

In fact as people drop their social prejudices as cash formerly floating around the economy recedes, they seem to take a much more practical look at re-inventing themselves through education, and not necessarily in the stuffy and idle halls of the ivy leagues.

Trade and technical schools are enjoying a renaissance. Online learning is spreading like wildfire. Disenchantment with the cost, effort, and lack of jobs with higher education as well as a boon from governments pouring funding into infrastructure has a lot of us considering personal reinvention as tradespeople.

What’s the Pay?

Even twenty years ago a skilled, experienced, construction worker with a good work ethic and his own quality tools could draw $35 an hour or more, and he basically worked for himself if he wanted to. In certain US states you could add to that a full array of benefits and a retirement plan!

Tradespeople deserve the pay they receive. Their work is more demanding, time sensitive, and dangerous than an office position, and the physical nature of the work makes it more perilous and subject to becoming obsolete sooner because of age or injury. As an extreme analogy, professional athletes can score millions of dollars a year but can have a career of four years or less.

So the economy needs and rewards with more money and a new prestige skills rather than diplomas in many cases.

Some of the trades we are talking about include

  • Plumber
  • Electrician
  • HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning)
  • Auto Mechanic
  • Aviation Mechanic
  • Painter
  • Baker
  • Chef
  • Butcher

And an important distinction should be made about the trades. As you look at the limited list above you quickly realize they all involve a good deal of hands-on education. The old system of apprenticeship was a good one and still exists if in different forms. We may need to colloquially redefine what we mean when we use the term, educated. It is no longer exclusive to higher formal education and it never was; neither are great compensation or pride.


We all need to understand not only the value of true professionals, skilled tradespeople, and honest laborers alike, but also that each one of us comes from a unique set of circumstances, interests, and talents not everyone possesses. A great economy would not confer a higher status to one over the other but appreciate each for the important roles they play.

The intelligence of your doctor or lawyer, the technical skill and efficiency of your mechanic or plumber or painter, and the bravery and industry of the laborer all give reason for admiration and appreciation. And they should all be proud.

(1) http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/04/53-of-recent-college-grads-are-jobless-or-underemployed-how/256237/



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.