Of approximately 160 million people working full-time in the US, nearly half of them are working in jobs that involve handwork. The production by this workforce supports the economic infrastructure of our nation’s economy.
One of the greatest career misconceptions today is that if you don’t go to college but work in a trade instead – carpenter, plumber, electrician, sheet metal worker – it is less important than a white-collar job. However, that is a myth. Trade workers provide essential services that will always be needed.
There was a time when people entering the workforce would naturally gravitate toward construction because demand was high. Communities were being built; the suburbs were expanding. But the impression of the value of that kind of work changed over the generations. Something altered the national consciousness, and people began to disdain manual labor.
Around the 1980s, a movement began in schools to remove wood and metal shop classes from high school curricula. Training in those skills was replaced by training on computer skills. It is unfortunate that schools did not maintain both. One result was that students didn’t have the opportunity to discover they had a gift in carpentry, plumbing, electric, welding, auto mechanics, or home economics.
Couple that with the fact that colleges have gotten much better at marketing. In addition, parents continue to steer their children toward a college education. The mindset becomes: If I go to school and get good grades, and if I get a scholarship and get accepted to college, and if I get a degree and get a job, and if that job pays well, then I can start living my life. Many people – students and parents alike – get caught in a “someday” world versus the “today” world.
Because the flow of labor into the trades has been diminished, there are more opportunities than ever for blue collar entrepreneurs to build stable incomes, successful careers and lifelong businesses. For every ten contractors retiring (the average age of a contractor today is the mid-50s) only about five people are entering the workforce to backfill those jobs. The resulting supply-and-demand situation is already having an effect. When the supply is low and the demand is high, that is where the money flows. In some regions, it has reached the point where plumbers and electricians are earning more than attorneys, while not being saddled by student loan debt.
Considering this, parents may want to steer their children in the direction of greater opportunity. If aware of the potential, students may make different career decisions. Having a college degree just for the sake of having it is an expensive and sometimes ineffective proposition.
A career choice should support the vision of the life we want for ourselves, not waiting around for a “someday” life to happen. Younger generations need to be encouraged to take hold of the power of a career that can make that happen.
Tune in to episode 125 of Bridging the Gap Podcast and learn more about the employment picture that faces first time job seekers.