Get on the path to becoming a skilled tradesperson

By Roy Berendsohn for Popular Mechanics

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The demand for most trades is strong and getting stronger. The U.S. Department of Labor forecasts healthy growth in the neighborhood of 8 to 9 percent over the next decade. Jobs associated with building and rebuilding roads, bridges, water, and the power grid are expected to grow by double-digit percentages—faster than the overall economy. Jobs for plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters are projected to grow 16 percent during this same time period. And projected employment growth across all occupations is 7.4 percent. Construction, the mechanical trades, and industrial occupations like welding are in-demand trades that could mean either a stable career or a launching pad. You might start out swinging a hammer but it could lead to project management, environmental analysis, sales, education, or engineering. I met a bunch of these people in the course of writing this article. And, by the way, that’s how I found my way here. This story is going to tell you how you can do it, too.

The postwar era in America was one of unparalleled white-collar growth. Thus both public and private high schools were deemed most successful if they graduated students to college. But college costs have risen sharply and continue to rise. Forbes concluded a year ago that college tuition is rising nearly eight times faster than wages. A four-year degree is still deemed valuable, but you’ve got to be able to afford it with a minimum of debt and it has to be the basis of a well-paying job when you exit. If not, you’re stuck.

Given a decades-old institutional bias toward college, it’s not surprising that trades teachers feel like they’re constantly playing second fiddle. “Our biggest challenge today is that guidance counselors push every student into college,” says Jim Reid, director of apprenticeships for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM). Tim Baber, professor of manufacturing technology at College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, California, echoes that. Speaking about his high-school-age son, he says, “All he hears is college, college, college.” Oddly enough, the trades bear some responsibility.

To learn more, read "How to Become a Skilled Tradesperson" from Popular Mechanics.