Take a closer look at the myths that might be keeping you from a career in the trades.
The average age for more trade workers, also known as blue-collar workers, is 47. That relatively high age, along with a growing need for people who know how to build things, care for others and just plain fix things means there are plenty of job openings in many fields–carpentry, HVAC, electrical, plumbing, welding, computer programming and even health care.
But is a trade job something to consider? The myths and fears people have about trade labor could fill a book. We asked experts at POLYTECH Adult Education, New Castle County Vocational Technical School District and the Delaware Department of Labor to tell us about some of the inaccurate assumptions they've heard, and how they would counter those.
While the answers varied slightly, a statement made by Jeremy McEntire, assistant director of POLYTECH, represents an overall consensus: "[A trade job] is not a second choice. It's not a 'less than' choice. It is absolutely essential."
Myth: The trades are for people who can't cut it in college. Reality: These industries are made up of smart people, and thankfully so, says Mark Wilson, supervisor of apprenticeship and technical training programs for New Castle County Vo-Tech’s Adult Education Division. Many workers start out in Registered Apprenticeships, often called “the other four-year degree.” Apprentices are paid to learn on the job and take classes, usually two nights a week. At the end of their four years, they receive journeyperson papers — a certification that the person is a master of his or her trade. They “graduate” while earning a living and without incurring debt.
Workers wishing to advance in their trade can also take part in ongoing career and technical education, which allows them to keep up with changes in their industries and learn new skills.
Myth: The trades only offer low offer low-paying jobs. Reality: The skilled trades are experiencing an unprecedented labor shortage that has led to increased compensation for new and existing employees and enhanced job security, with plentiful career advancement opportunities. One apprentice electrician McEntire knows was making $77,000 a year while still in training.
Although the rates vary from program to program and from employer to employer, the State of Delaware requires employers to pay their journeyworkers and apprentices based on the prevailing wage rates on Delaware’s public works projects, says Wilson. Those rates run anywhere from $24 to $106 an hour depending on the job and the location.
Making a six-figure salary is very possible. “People can make a good living,” says McEntire.
Myth: Working in the trades is hard labor and requires a lot of physical strength. Reality: Working in the skilled trades can be “hard work,” says Wilson, “but I believe that everyone who wants to excel in their career should be working hard.”
Most trades require people of average strength and then there are positions within the trades, like being an electronics technician, that don’t require any lifting or physical labor, says McEntire.
Myth: I'm too old to start working in a trade. Reality: Although one must be at least 16 years old to begin an apprenticeship, there is not an upper age limit for beginning a career in the skilled trades. The average age of a State of Delaware Registered Apprentice is 26 years old, but there are students ranging from high school age up through their 50s, says Wilson.
The career changer age range at POLYTECH generally runs from teenager to mid-40s, McEntire says, but he’s also had students in their 50s, 60s and 70s.
Myth: I don't have any skills or experience, so there is no way for me to get into a trade.Reality: The Department of Labor’s Registered Apprenticeship program is designed to provide entry- level workers the knowledge and experience required to become a journeyperson in their trade — and at no cost to the student or the employer, says Jazelle Plummer, apprenticeship and training manager for the department.
The apprentice is usually hired as a shop laborer and then moves into the apprenticeship program. The program agreement provides the worker with on-the-job training and related theory instruction throughout the duration of the apprenticeship program.
Myth: There is no job security in the trade. Reality: It’s estimated in the United States that 165,000 skilled laborers are going to age out of the workforce in the next 10 years, says Plummer.
That aging workforce combines with a steady growth rate that has led to immense job security for both new and existing employees in the construction trades. Additionally, because the skilled trades are involved in the construction and maintenance of new and existing residential, commercial and industrial structures and systems, a job in the skilled trades is both in-demand and recession- resistant. When one sector slows down, the others can help provide opportunities to offset the decrease of jobs, says Wilson.
Myth: The trades are a boys' club with little diversity. Reality: About 30% of the students at POLYTECH are African American, says McEntire. They also have an active curriculum of classes for English language learners. Although construction remains a male- dominated industry, women can easily complete all of the tasks associated with the skilled trades and are highly sought after in the industry. Many companies are actively recruiting women.
Myth: I can't make a difference in a trade job. Reality: Besides money, there is a huge amount of job satisfaction. “It takes small pieces to build a big building. Pointing to something and saying, ‘I helped build that’ — that’s a life-changing experience,” says Ed Capodanno, president of Associated Builders and Contractors of Delaware. “Not a lot of people get to say that.”
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