I’m a big advocate for the skilled trades in general, and manufacturing specifically. I spend a lot of time and energy to get in front of the next generation of our workforce at high schools, technical colleges, military reintegration units, and other vocational training programs around America. Whenever I’m lucky enough to be granted access to such a program, I obviously spend some time speaking about the opportunities to work at FlexTrades and passing along the tribal knowledge I’ve picked up over the decades that I’ve found to be critical to success in any industry. But I’m always surprised how much time I spend answering questions about the skilled trades themselves.
It reinforces to me how poorly those of us within the trades have marketed ourselves over the past half-century. But these questions are also an important reminder for me to remember that people outside of our industries don’t have the knowledge that insiders do. Because of this, it’s important to be able to speak to the basics – especially when talking to younger audiences. With this in mind, I’d like to share 10 of the questions I most commonly get about the trades (and how I answer them) with all of you.
1) I’m not mechanically inclined or into working with my hands. Is there an opportunity for me to work in the skilled trades?
There is an opportunity in the trades for everyone, regardless of what their natural aptitudes may be. First, being mechanically inclined is important but the continuing development of tools and technology make that less of a necessity every day. To be clear, you’ll still need to use tools to work in a hands-on position. I’m just saying those tools get easier to use well and require less expertise to do so all the time. This means the industry is trying to make itself more welcoming for all skill levels. But let’s say you are one of those people that just isn’t capable of that kind of work. There’s still a home for you in the trades! From sales to HR to project management to design to administration, trades-oriented companies need all the peripheral and support skills that any other company needs. Don’t ever forget that!
2) Do I need to go to college to work in the trades?
Plain and simple, no. This doesn’t mean you can’t, or shouldn’t, just that it’s not a requirement. Whether working in construction, agriculture, or manufacturing, I have worked with individuals who followed all possible paths to success. They may look different, but they lead to the same place. If school isn’t for you and you need to get to work, starting in an entry-level position with a company that provides lots of on-the-job training and plentiful advancement opportunities can be a great way to grow your career. If you have a passion for a particular trade or a firm idea of what path into trades work you want to follow, going to the right local vocational program can be a wonderful option to start. Maybe a four-year degree experience is what you want. That doesn’t mean we don’t need you in the trades! Business, communications, engineering, design, and management majors are just a few of the degree paths that are still much in demand at companies across the trades.
3) What is the best program to take to get a job in the trades?
The best program to take is the one that fits your interests, skills, and schedule the best. That’s the easy answer. The more complex answer is that it depends on where you’re from and where you’re going. This means that the same school can have programs that are much different when it comes to the quality of their training or the quality of their network. The network can be just as important as the training, because even the best training doesn’t do you much good if nobody is trying to hire graduates from your program. You should also keep this thought in mind when considering local demand for talent. If a school has a great welding program but your desired geographical area has few welding or fabrication shops, you may still struggle to get hired even with excellent skills. All of this means the more homework you do before selecting a program, the less hustling you’ll have to do to get hired after completing it.
4) I want to be an entrepreneur and run my own business. How does a goal like that fit in the trades?
In short, perfectly! There are well over 250,000 manufacturers, and close to 500,000 construction companies, in just the United States. The vast majority (well over 75% in any given year) are considered to be mid- or small-sized companies. More than half of them employ 20 people or less. This means that most companies employing tradespeople are technically small startups owned and operated by entrepreneurs, and most of them came to that place by starting in bottom rung roles not by pursuing a degree in entrepreneurship or significant amounts of venture capital first. All these numbers add up to one inescapable fact, there isn’t an industry that is more inclined to upward mobility or entrepreneurial growth than the skilled trades.
5) I don’t have many tools. How does a person start a skilled trade career without their own tools?
By working for a company that doesn’t require you to provide them. This may sound simple but that’s because it is. There are barriers to employment in any industry. The expense of tools can be a big one in the trades. But not every company requires you to provide your own and many that do will provide assistance with your purchases. Tools can be a complicator, but the right research can make sure they’re not a deal breaker.
6) I come from a small town without a lot of employment opportunities locally. How do I get started in the skilled trades?
Maybe you start your own company. Maybe you temporarily relocate to begin your career so you can start building experience. Or maybe you come work for FlexTrades. We have projects all around America where your skills are in demand. Whether you’re just starting your career, or well along your career path, we have opportunities for you. Almost all of our work requires travel, but you’ll never have to permanently relocate, and you can homebase from anywhere across the country. If this sounds like you, check out our available openings now!
7) Is it hard to start a career in the skilled trades?
No. People interested in starting are very much in demand and there are many ways in which they can begin. Entry level work with a local company, apprenticeship programs through companies or unions, associates degrees from vocational schools, condensed training programs, military service – all these paths can lead you to a successful career in the trades. You just need to pick the one that’s right for you and then stay on it!
8) Are there opportunities to grow my career once I get started in the trades?
Of course! Just like any company, there are many ways you can job up. Seniority can get you better pay or more responsibility at some companies. Continuing education or ongoing certification can help you advance at others. Experience alone can help push you up the ladder since knowing the ins and outs of a company often gives internal candidates a leg up on the competition when it comes to new openings and advancement opportunities. The only thing that really can hold your career growth back in the skilled trades is your personal ambition or creativity.
9) Will I make as much money as a “white collar” job?
Most likely? Yes! While top earners in any one trade may not make what top earners in certain “white collar” fields make (think surgeons compared to great welders) when talking about the “average” worker it’s not even close. There is too much variation in annual average and median incomes, based on location, for me to start quoting them now. What I’ll say is that, wherever you live around the US, do a quick internet search using these phrases “median (insert skilled trade of choice, such as Welder) income for (insert your local zip code) compared to other occupations”. I promise your results will be surprising.
10) What trade is most in-demand?
That answer varies significantly with geography. For example, injection-mold operators are a lot more likely to be in demand somewhere that has many aviation or automotive manufacturers because they do a lot of injection-molding. However, I tend to encourage people to pursue maintenance careers when they know they want to work in the trades but aren’t sure which trade. Why? Because no matter what changes occur with equipment we use or how we use it, somebody will always be needed to troubleshoot, maintain, and repair that equipment. Maintenance is a great trades career for a lot of reasons but job security like that is one of the big ones.
I hope you found value in this list and that you’re more prepared to advocate for careers in the skilled trades in the future. If you’d like more answers, check out our blog page to see other questions we’ve covered in the past. Got a question or answer of your own to share? We’d love to help you do that! Send them to our Writing Team and we’ll be happy to share them in a future blog.