“My mother’s dad dropped out of the eighth grade to work. He had to. By the time he was 30, he was a master electrician/plumber/carpenter/mason/mechanic. That guy was, to me, a magician. Anything that was broken, he could fix. Anybody anywhere in our community knew that if there was a problem, Carl was there to fix it.”
That quote from a 2011 CNNMoney interview with TV personality and author Mike Rowe perfectly encapsulates the value of trades work. Tradesperson positions – a plumber, construction worker, electrician – all power our 21st century standard of living. Even if you don’t work specifically in those trades, the hands-on knowledge to navigate that work makes you incredibly self-sufficient and can set you far apart from your peers.
There is a massive need in this country for skilled trades workers – and the interest isn’t there like it has been in decades past. “America needs carpenters and plumbers,” wrote NPR in an article from earlier this year. “Gen Z doesn’t seem interested.”
The application rate for young people seeking technical jobs – like plumbing, building and electrical work – dropped by 49% in 2022 compared to 2020 (www.npr.org). A wave of imminent retirements coming in the next few years make those numbers even more concerning. Some of that deficit is due to the narrative surrounding vocational training vs. collegiate training in pursuit of a degree. A PBS article from 2017 had this to say about the messaging surrounding that decision:
“Research … showed that families and employers alike didn’t know of the existence or value of vocational programs and the certifications they confer, many of which can add tens of thousands of dollars per year to a graduate’s income … High schools and colleges have struggled for decades to attract students to job-oriented classes ranging from welding to nursing. They’ve tried cosmetic changes, such as rebranding ‘vocational’ courses as ‘career and technical education,’ but students and their families have yet to buy in,” said Andrew Hanson, a senior research analyst with Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. “Federal figures show that only 8% of undergraduates are enrolled in certificate programs, which tend to be vocationally oriented.”
Still, the value is there. “The United States has 30 million jobs that pay an average of $55,000 per year and don’t require a bachelor’s degree, according to the Georgetown center” (www.pbs.org).
This can be an attractive aspect of the decision to pursue vocational training, especially in the midst of the national conversation about student debt. Aside from the fact that formal classroom education is not sustainable for everyone (many find school difficult), finances absolutely come into play. According to the Department of Education, roughly 45 million people in the U.S. owe collectively just under $1.5 trillion in student debt. Stepping into a role in the workplace that doesn’t require that often monolithic investment sets young people free to thrive in the workforce.
What do you think of when one discusses “trade work”? Most would state the obvious like “carpenter” or “plumber” and while that’s true – the list is actually quite lengthy. Visit this handy guide courtesy of the team at Indeed.com to see some other examples – and the national average salary that is typically offered (the average for a plumber is $24.23/hour – not bad!).
Bringing it home, what is the impact of vocational training or “trades work” on the farm or homestead? Outside of possibly working for yourself and not “punching a timeclock”? The age of the internet is a beautiful thing. Information is just a click away. Even someone who has never picked up a tool (and that is the case for more and more as they step out of life in the urban center and try to live more self sustainably), can search a YouTube tutorial or a help forum and teach themselves how to make that repair, construct that shed or complete that project.
However, vocational training and some lived experience place you above the pack when you set out on this farming or homesteading adventure. You aren’t limited to hiring someone and writing a check. There is absolutely nothing wrong with doing so, but being able to pick up those tools, “make the magic happen” and to be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor and to provide for your family in that way is unbelievably fulfilling and empowering.
Thank you to all of the many skilled trades workers out there.
You make the world go ‘round.
by Andy Haman