My ex-husband runs a plumbing and heating business, and his biggest worry has never been getting enough work, finding supplies, or the resources to learn how to do all the things his customers expect of him.
His biggest worry is keeping up with the workload. He gets so many calls and requests for work, he literally gets overwhelmed and simply can’t get to everyone. It’s not because he has a great reputation (although he does), it’s because people will always need plumbers, or electricians, or carpenters. In good times they renovate, in slow times they repair. People will always use their lights, toilet, and want to keep their stairs or railings safe and up to code.
A huge struggle for him has been in finding quality help. He’s posted ads in every local paper, posted Help Wanted ads in Craigslist, called trade schools looking for qualified employees, and even hired recruiters to try and find a qualified plumber– they don’t even have to be super knowledgeable. He just needs someone who knows a little bit. He can pay a very competitive rate, offer health benefits and vacation time, a company phone, and vehicle, and still he struggles to find the candidates he needs.
Our three kids have been working with him, and love it. They get to work with their hands, learn a trade, and I can tell it’s building their self-confidence. If one or two of them don’t go into plumbing themselves, which I think they will, they’ll have an amazing skill to fall back on. I can already tell my three kids are going to do better in life if they can be moving, working with their hands and putting together puzzles. Maybe it’s in their genes, after all, they come from a long line of plumbers.
This shortage of qualified tradespeople real is job security. Who doesn’t want that for themselves or their kids?
I know many of us feel like our kids should be a Bachelor’s of Something, but there is something to be said for learning a trade.
Research by the state’s 114-campus community college system 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.
So, a career as a tradesperson will not only give our kids a little more freedom because they aren’t carrying a bunch of student loan debt, by learning a trade, they can make a wonderful living if they choose vocational programs over a traditional college education.
I know when I graduated high school in 1993, it almost felt like you didn’t have a choice– you just went away to a 4-year school. And if you choose to stay home and figure things out, or attend a community college, or God forbid, go work for your father’s construction company, you were put into a different category. It was a lot of pressure, and I’m betting if learning a trade was more accepted, more kids would choose that path, and in turn, be more successful.
Andrew Hanson, a senior research analyst with Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce tells PBS that high schools and colleges have tried to change the way students and parents look at these vocational courses with little success.
And The U.S. Department of Education reports, “People with career and technical educations are actually slightly more likely to be employed than their counterparts with academic credentials.”
It’s something to think about, that’s for sure. I know for me, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel the need to pressure my kids to go get their Bachelor’s Degree, but it’s not up to me. This is a decision that could affect the rest of their life.
And if they want to have a career as a carpenter, electrician, welder, or builder, I think it’s wonderful and I will encourage them to look at those options just as much as I will talk about going to a 4-year college. It’s about their happiness and well-being, not how they look on paper, or what anyone else will think. What you do with your life after high school is not a one-size-fits-all, and the stigma around it needs to change.
And really, I’d love to reap the benefits of having them come over to replace my kitchen sink, or fix a busted lantern.