Some jobs have a barrier to entry, whether it’s doctors, teachers, engineers, or accountants. You need a piece of paper that says you’ve gone through the training and have the experience to do that job. There’s value in having that piece of paper.

One field that doesn’t require that piece of paper is construction, a good career field for men and women. You can only know the satisfaction of building something with your hands after you’ve done it. It helps build confidence and competence. There are physical and mental health benefits to be gained from physical activity.

Unfortunately, misperceptions about jobs in the skilled trades hold some people back from seeking employment in that sector. Some of those misperceptions include:

  • Dirty – Compare the trades to nursing and you’ll find both professions have plenty of unclean moments.
  • Heavy lifting – Compare the trades to childcare, nursing or grocery store work. Things sometimes need to be lifted.
  • Noisy – Hearing protection is available. Noise is an issue when workers decide their hearing protection is optional.
  • Unsafe – While construction workers have the right to refuse to do something they consider unsafe, police officers and firefighters don’t have that option.
  • Fallback plan – Some people mistakenly think the trades are for uneducated people who don’t have a better career plan in mind.

There is an outdated hierarchy between blue collar and white collar jobs and careers. It’s a fact that skilled labor a hundred years ago was less safe, because rules for avoiding injuries were lacking. It’s understandable that modern day parents who recall those times have done what they can to ensure their children don’t have to work as hard and face the same safety risks. But times have changed.

The conversation needs to be reframed, and education is the best way to change perceptions.

One place to start is with younger generations. More children’s books are being published with messages that the skilled trades are valid options for careers. Children need to see that it’s cool to build things. One example is “The House That She Built,” which educates young readers about the many diverse skills that go into building a home. Giving children the right information at a young age plants the seeds of their future career.

Trade apprenticeships provide learning by doing. New workers learn specialized skills while working alongside experienced coworkers. Apprenticeships are one way to get a piece of paper that says you’ve gone through the training and have the experience.

Yes, there’s value in a university degree for jobs where a diploma is a barrier to entry. But not everybody is suited to college, and it’s not the best learning environment for everyone. While advanced schooling is important, we shouldn’t punish the process of hands-on learning. You can’t learn how to use a hammer by reading a book.

If you come out of college with a piece of paper and still have to take a minimum wage job, that piece of paper probably fell short of making you a productive member of the workforce.

Listen to episode 141 of the Bridging the Gap Podcast with guest Shannon Tymosko for more insights into the skilled trades. 

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