Diamond In The Rough

Let’s say you are graduating from high school, but are just not the “college type”.  Or, let’s say you are a fantastic student in high school, but simply don’t envision yourself in the more traditional careers (“white collar”).

Your interest in “higher education” is lukewarm, and you do not feel  motivated to reach your true potential via the traditional school route.

Now anxiety in the household is high as adulthood approaches, because “without a college degree, you are not qualified to get a good job one day!”

Of course, it seems as though all of the neighborhood kids are headed off to “good” schools to receive a stellar education on the way to becoming “masters of the universe”.

Do you decide to go with the herd, even though the path doesn’t match your strengths and interests, and throw yourself on the college wagon, student debt and all?

If you don’t go, your future is bleak, right?


If you enjoy working with your hands on practical applications, your future may be brighter than you think.

Quick question. What would you identify as the hot areas of job opportunities for young people?   Technology? Alternative energy? Financial Technology “Fintech”?

What if I suggested that the hot areas are not only those sexy careers, but also the skilled trades?

That’s right. I’m talking about the “blue collar” occupations such as electricians, carpenters, plumbers, welders, designers, solar panel installers and medical technicians, for example.


For every one skilled tradesperson that joins the workforce, five more are retiring. Guess the average age of the skilled tradesperson?

Mid to late fifties.

This supply demand imbalance, exacerbated by the post recession boom in construction has created a tremendous opportunity for long-term rewarding careers in the skilled trades. The jobs are plentiful, and the hiring pool is relatively small.

Factor in the new administration’s fervor to restrict immigration without temporary work visas, and a significant portion of America’s skilled trades workforce has been diminished. Therefore, these opportunities will be abundant over the next two decades, especially if a massive initiative is launched to rebuild American infrastructure.

Moreover, the wages are competitive, the skills allow for geographic mobility, and most technical training graduates are burdened with very little student debt relative to the university graduate counterparts.

The average annual costs to attend a technical school are $3,500; a fraction of the estimated $20,000 – $70,000 annual costs of a four year university.

Another very important point is that it will be difficult to replace many of the skilled trades with technology.  For example, it is clear to me that technology could replace many more finance, sales and service jobs than it could plumbers, electricians and carpenters.  I don’t think technology has evolved to the point where I would call a robot out to my house after hours to fix a burst pipe in the crawl space, or to diagnose electrical gremlins.

If the financial costs are much lower, job opportunities are plentiful and relatively secure from artificial intelligence bots, and the time to earn certification is less than a university…then why aren’t more young people taking advantage of the skilled trades opportunity?

Simple.  There is a stigma attached to the skilled trades; it is a dirty business for people with lower levels of intelligence and education.

Of course, this is not true, as this work is honorable, valuable and rewarding.  However, the stigma discourages many parents/counselors/students from recommending or pursuing these career paths.

The truth is that many skilled trades people have strong math, language and task management skills, and they are often goal oriented, hard working and ambitious.

Some school systems are ahead of the curve, and are positioning students to take advantage of specific opportunities.  In the Howard County (Maryland) school system, they offer a cyber security technician program that continues for one year after graduation at a local Community College.  At the completion of the program, graduates earn an Associates Degree, and are ready to assume a skilled trade job in cyber security if they desire.  Moreover, they have the option to continue and receive a Bachelors Degree at a four year university.

I know several very impressive entrepreneurs who built successful businesses based on their skilled trade.

My friend Justin Taylor, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, used his master electrician certification to learn the solar energy business. He now runs his own Charlotte, NC firm called Pure Power Contractors, with expected revenues of $15 million for 2017.  “A Veteran’s Story: From A Troubled Youth To A Successful Entrepreneur, Via The USMC”

Once certified and skilled, many trades people are in an excellent position to create a secure and bright future.  If your self-analysis determines that you are better suited for this, take the road less traveled when you get to the fork of High School graduation.

3 thoughts on “Diamond In The Rough

  1. Good one, Frank. Way too many young folks are lured into college by peer and parent pressure (P^3). They enter knowing that college is just not for them.. They end up wasting valuable time & money (which they can’t get back) instead of perfecting a skill they like/enjoy right out of high school.

  2. I totally agree that there was definitely a stigma attached to trades. At least when I was coming up. My dad was a welder and didn’t want me to trade work. There was a lot of pressure to go to college. My parents enrolled me in pre-college programs starting in middle school. I graduated from college in debt. If there was no pressure I think I would have gone to school for a trade. I have a career but I don’t think I am as happy as I could be.

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