Finding a Career in the Trades

Most people these days seem to favor occupations in the college norm. The primary school system and well-meaning parents often encourage this route as well. But for some people, college isn’t in the cards. If this is a you, you might find your career calling in the trades.

Related: How Much Does School Cost?

Why enter the trades?

There are at least as many reasons why you might want to work in the trades as there are reasons why another person would want to work in a college norm occupation. But some of the advantages in the trades are a radical departure from college-type jobs.

Related: Would You Rather Be “Book Smart” or “Handy”?

The need to crash out of the cubicle. Some people find working in a cubicle or office to be dehumanizing – they’d rather be anywhere but. The trades not only offer an opportunity to avoid the cubicle entirely, but also to work in various locations as the need arises.

Doing something completely different. So many people are working in college norm occupations today that it almost seems to be a default of some sort. Working in the trades offers an opportunity to work in something that is radically different.

Finding a Career in the Trades
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Greater job stability. Many of the college norm jobs have become plug-and-play positions where a worker can be quickly and easily replaced. Since the trades require a high degree of specific skill, there is often greater stability there than in many college norm positions.

Desire to work with your hands. It’s a fact that some people are just more oriented toward working with their hands, and they tend to be very good at it. It’s a form of doing work that is physical in nature, rather than the paper dominated world of office complexes.

Self-employment potential. If you have a strong independent streak, and believe that you will ultimately be self-employed, the trades are usually the better place to be. Most of the trades can be readily converted to self-employment once you reach a certain skill level. After that, you have the flexibility to either work for yourself or to hold a job with an employer. Many office related occupations are simply not convertible into self-employment.

Related: Don’t Overlook Self-Employment as a Career Option

Considering the advantages of the trades, what are the more common ones that offer these opportunities?


Electricians are among most popular tradesmen, and there are very good reasons for this. They earn an average of at least $50,000 per year, but given that all things electrical need to either be fixed or replaced eventually, the employment outlook for this field is solid. Like most trades, there is a strong ability to move into self-employment. They also have the advantage of working either as installers in new construction, or on the maintenance side with existing buildings.

No degree is required in order to become an electrician. The typical form of entry is through apprenticeship in a union or an independent company. Technical school attendance is often part of the process as well, and there may be licensing requirements if you plan to go independent, depending on where you live.


Since virtually every building in existence has some form of plumbing in it, plumbing is guaranteed to be one of the most stable fields imaginable. Like electricians, they can work as installers for new construction, but can also be involved in maintenance of existing systems. Self-employment is also common in the plumbing field.

Plumbers typically need no more than a high school diploma, or equivalency. They also learn the trade primarily through apprenticeship, supplemented by technical classroom training. Pay level is about $47,000 per year on average.


This is one of the very best fields if you really like to work with your hands. Depending on which areas of carpentry you go into, it can be an opportunity to create from the ground up. Carpenters tend to be heavily dependent upon new construction work, and the boom and bust cycles of the trade usually run with the ups and down’s of the real estate market.

Still, a skilled carpenter can find plenty of work beyond new construction. Carpenters are also commonly found in home remodeling, home repair, kitchen cabinet construction and furniture making. The average pay level is about $40,000 per year, but a master carpenter who establishes a positive reputation can often make much more.

Carpenters enter the field through apprenticeships, often starting out as a carpenter’s helper.

Some other trades worth checking out include mechanics (auto, aircraft and other areas), elevator repair, and computer repair. There is a trade for just about any career interest.

Have you – or are you – considering the trades as a career option?

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10 years ago

Interesting that you associate the trades following outside the college norm.
When I think of college diplomas, it’s the trades and the health-related tech positions that come to mind first.

10 years ago

In Los Angeles, the electrician unions are recruiting high school students who are good in math. Unfortunately, if you are good in math you probably want to be an engineer. I think we overlook some of the possibilities of a trade and how it lead to your own business.

10 years ago
Reply to  krantcents

Wouldn’t there be a little bit of a continuum between “sort of good at math” and “engineer good at math”? I know I received pretty good marks in university-prep math, but the stuff my engineering buddies did was way over my head.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
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