In an increasingly digital world, in which virtual reality and social media have become a central part of most people’s lives, it’s not surprising that the idea of physical labor and working with your hands are seen by many as practices from an earlier age. Yet the men and women who build our homes and offices, maintain our infrastructure, and repair the machines and mechanical systems on which our lives depend are among the most essential workers in our society. From plumbers and electricians, to carpenters and HVAC techs, people in the skilled trades carry on a proud tradition that is as important now as it was before the era of computers and smart phones.
Not only is it inaccurate to think of blue-collar jobs as inherently inferior to office jobs or professions requiring advanced degrees; studies also suggest that people working in the skilled trades often have both greater job satisfaction and greater job security. According to a report by the human resources software company TINYpulse that surveyed over 30,000 employees across 12 industries, construction and facility service workers were the happiest employees. And, in an age of globalization and outsourcing, jobs that require a physical presence, such as carpentry, mechanical or electrical work, are much less likely to be exported to other countries.
College vs. Trade School
While for many a four-year college education may be a good choice, especially if they plan to go on to further study, college is not necessarily for everybody, and for many it can make more sense to get training in a particular skill. Among the things to consider are:
While it’s true that a bachelor’s degree can lead to higher-paying jobs, the cost of a four-year college education can cost upwards of $100,000, as compared to an average of $33,000 for a trade school degree. Moreover, many graduates leave college burdened with a debt of $30,000 or more, while the average debt load for students graduating from a two-year technical school is $10,000.
Generally, trade school programs can be completed in six months to two years (and even less time for some specialties), which means that you can get into the work force more quickly and start earning a salary right away.
As mentioned above, college isn’t for everybody, an observation borne out by the fact that some 40% of students drop out of four-year colleges without earning a degree (while still incurring often substantial expenses).
The Job Outlook for the Trades is Bright
And, in case job satisfaction, security, lower out-of-pocket expenses, shorter education time, and the pleasure of working with one’s hands weren’t enough, the prospects for employment in the skilled trades is excellent in the next 10 years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in construction and extraction occupations is projected to grow 11 percent, faster than the average for all occupations. Moreover, the median annual wage for all construction and extraction occupations was $43,610 in May 2016, higher than the median annual wage for all occupations of $37,040.
Or, as Sarah Landrum put it in a 2016 Forbes article, “Is there really anything inherently more honorable about sitting at a desk for eight hours per day, compared with working with your hands for the same amount of time?”