I have to admit that I am not great at working with my hands. I’m ok at manual labour – as long as it’s simple and doesn’t require problem solving! Basically I’m a big guy with a strong back that doesn’t mind working hard, yet recoils at the skills needed for carpentry, mechanical work, or similar pursuits. Consequently I’ve chosen to play to my strengths and not work with my hands for a living. Because I’m not really a part of the skilled labour or manual labour worlds (other than through my father) I could very well not realize something that appears very simple to someone else. That being said, I can’t for the life of me understand why anyone would want to choose “grunt” labour over skilled labour positions (if they were capable of meeting the post-secondary requirements that is) in today’s job market.
Skilled Labour Jobs In Alberta and Saskatchewan
The great migration West in Canada has been well-publicized at this point. I have had several friends head out there over the past few years, and the majority of them have been fortunate enough to fatten their wallets by a substantial margin. Some decided to go the skilled labour route, while others were fine just signing on to do whatever needed to be done for a very solid paycheque. I guess I can understand the allure of making more than your high school teacher did as an 18-year old just out of school, but I believe the skilled trades route is vastly superior for several reasons.
Make Money Now
As someone who went through five years of university education (and took a full course load every year) in order to become a teacher, getting paid as you proceed through your education sounds like a heckuva deal. From what I understand, this is the case with most skilled labour positions out there today. As you work your way through the different stages of apprenticeship and journeyman, your compensation increases, and you are able to work your way through school in ways that a university student can only dream of. Co-op programs and work placement deals are a great way to build a resume with actual work experience on it instead of mere pieces of paper and this gives you a huge leg up in actually finding jobs once you have your education.
There are many options in the skilled trades fields, and many of them are not well-known to people that didn’t grow up around industry. Obviously I’m not expert, but I do know from talking to my buddies that in addition to popular trades such as carpentry, electrician, and plumber, there are all sorts of lesser-known but great-paying skilled labour positions such as machinists, millwrights, various types of specialized mechanics, pipefitters, welders, and even certain heavy equipment operator positions.
The “Good” Ol’ Days
While skilled labour still suffers from outdated stereotypes, it is true that not so long ago manual labour and skilled labour weren’t all that different in peoples’ minds. Their respective compensation levels weren’t all that different either. Those days are long gone from what I can tell. Skilled labour positions are in-demand all around the world, and particularly in Canada. In fact, despite our relatively high unemployment numbers, many Canadian companies are begging to be allowed to import skilled labour and trades people because Canadian workers simply don’t seem to be getting the memo that the job market keeps sending year after year. As someone with two university degrees, I can tell you with a fair degree of certainty that most skilled labour positions in Western Canada make more than I do. While you can make a pretty good living doing manual labour, I believe it would be fairly easy to retire at 45 or 50 working a skilled labour job (as long as you didn’t succumb to the lifestyle inflation that is).
I Don’t Even Have to Pay For It?
To top off the great package that is skilled labour, there are several perks that are definitely worth mentioning. Chief among them is the fact that many companies will pay for your training in exchange for some sort of loyalty agreement. If you promise to put in your apprenticeship hours working for a large oil or energy company, I know of several that will pay for your schooling. The reality of the jobs market is that people that want to get into these lines of work hold a lot of the cards because they are in such high demand. This leads to companies competing with each other and battling to retain hard-working and ambitious skilled labour employees.
Choose Where You Want to Go!
The other major perk is the chief reason that I would recommend skilled labour over manual labour – easy mobility in a worst-case scenario. The energy industry is likely to dominate Western Canada and much of the USA for the foreseeable future, but it is a notoriously difficult sector to predict with any certainty. When you enter into manual labour positions at young ages and get used to the great immediate gratification of a large paycheque, you can quickly forget about the harsh realities that can occur if an industry collapses or picks up and moves. Many miners and oil field workers have fallen victim to these circumstances before. With skilled labour jobs, you always have something to fall back on. I know this sounds cliché, but it’s true nonetheless. Getting someone else to pay for some solid credentials, and give you valuable experience, all while providing you with a solid paycheque sounds like the much better deal to me!