Skilled Trades: Are They The Secret Path to Success?

By: Michael S.

You’ve probably heard of the terms “trade” or “skilled trade” at some point. Even though most people have heard about them, the vast majority overlook being part of these skilled trades to seek a college degree in seemingly higher-paying fields. By doing this, are people actually passing up a great, undiscovered job opportunity?

The article Are Trades Really the Economy’s Best Kept Secret? discusses skilled trades, and their pros and cons. A skilled trade is essentially a career path in which you get more on-the-job training, rather than going to college for a degree. These jobs also have a tendency to be labor intensive, and require more physical work than other college-based careers.

Skilled trade jobs have an average pay of around $55,000 a year, which is actually a bit lower than what most people make. With that being said, there is a lot of variability when it comes to trades, and as a result, the pay fluctuates as well. Under certain circumstances, trade jobs can pay up to $80,000 a year, a major increase from the median pay of $61,000 a year the average U.S. household makes. Also, whether the specific job in question is unionized or is represented by a union greatly changes the pay a tradesman will get. Unions are, in short, groups that represent their workers and negotiate on their behalf. On average, unionized trades tend to can make up to double the amount of non-unionized ones, when all of the benefits, such as pensions, are taken into account.

But, of course, the variability of trades can often turn for the worse, especially during recessions. Between 2008 and 2010, the unemployment rate in construction, a skilled-trade job, peaked at over 20%, while the overall unemployment rate was less than 10%. As a result of these recessions, companies also tend to limit the amount of workers that they take in, to avoid having more workers than jobs available.

So, are trades better than a college career path? Well, given the benefits and downsides of both, neither is objectively better. Tradesmen make decent pay and don’t need to go to college, which saves them thousands of dollars of possible debt from student loans, but there is a great lack of stability and extra physical work that wouldn’t need to be worried about with college careers. My conclusion is that it is up to the person’s individual interests and skills to decide which path they will take with their life.