So You Want to Join the Trades? Here’s Something to Consider

I applaud anyone who decides to join the trades, whether it’s mason, plumber, electrician, welder, etc. Working with your hands is good work, masculine work; it is work that makes you strong, tough, and fosters mental problem solving. It bestows upon you the skill and thus the confidence of being able to manipulate the world around you, removing your dependence on others. There’s something rewarding with looking at your creation or repair, knowing that you did it yourself.


The trades are also financially viable in this day and age where the rest of our peers are stuck in retail or unemployed. And while media and tech may come and go, there will always be a need for the trades.


While I strongly advocate for the trades, I must also caution that you do it right. Don’t make the mistakes that I made.


I have worked two trade-like jobs. I say trade-like because they require manual aptitude, a tool kit, and demand physical work, but they weren’t actual trades..


One job was for a water treatment company as an equipment installer and repairman. I learned a ton about plumbing and the engineering behind our particular systems, but the one major catch was that I wasn’t a plumber. I worked like a plumber. I needed to know many of their skills and I did a great deal of what they do. However, I was never a bona fide plumber, thus never earning a plumber’s salary.


My other job was in HVAC, which you would think involves repairing and installing furnaces and air conditioners. Nope. My job entailed “furnace and duct restoration”, which was just a fancy way of saying a duct cleaner. There were some technical aspects of the job, for sure, but, just how I wasn’t an actual plumber with the water treatment company, I was not a certified HVAC technician with this one. I didn’t get paid like an HVAC technician.


The reason for this is because I never went to school for the trades; I went to school for psychology. These two aforementioned jobs were more or less entry level, and didn’t require the schooling or apprenticeship that the other trades do. The two companies I worked for hired any competent man off the streets who was willing to learn a little and work a lot. These jobs (because they’re not careers) weren’t a path to a master craftsmen or tradesmen. You wouldn’t be able to become an independent contractor or open your own business with the training they give me. Even though these jobs seem trades-y, they’re not.


If you are interested in going into the trades then this is something you need to consider. Beware of jobs labeled “service tech”. All service techs do is some installation and repair, or some trades-related thing. But mostly the employer gives you specialized training needed to do a specific job and that’s it. There is no career path toward a master craftsman or tradesman. About the only thing you could put on your resume is “general mechanical ability”.


For example, my boss at the water treatment company was a welder before he moved into water treatment. He changed jobs because the pay was better, at the time. But now that the economy is just trudging along, he is struggling to make ends meet. He could either go back to welding, though he’s been out of the loop for several years, or he can stick it out as a lead service tech. He can’t go any higher than where he is now in water treatment, and the training was too specialized to take him anywhere else. If he wanted to be a plumber, he would still need to become an apprentice, go to school and work under a master, despite all these years of plumbing experience.


So don’t get stuck in a cul-de-sac. Getting the right experience in the trades requires the right schooling. If your goal is to become a tradesman then you need to go to a trade school, or have a master tradesmen take you under his wing as an apprentice. Do not take an entry level job, or a job looking for “hard working guys willing to learn” because, unless you’re getting an actual education, it won’t develop into a real, working trade. You’ll just be a service tech.

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