When you meet someone new, there are two questions that are often the first to be asked. “What’s your name?” is usually the first for obvious reasons, and hopefully is pretty easy to answer. The next question might make you pause for a second though, “What do you do?” For many people that question won’t be definitively answered until 10 or 20 years into their careers, and for some it changes multiple times over that same period. If you think what you “do” might be a career in the trades, you likely have some questions that you need answered first. While I can’t answer those questions for you, I might be able to help you answer them for yourself.
“Do I have a passion for working with my hands and is that enough for me to have a career in the construction industry?” For most of us who have chosen a career in the trades, the answer to this question is pretty obviously “Yes!” but it’s not always that easy. Just because I like cooking dinner doesn’t mean I want to be a chef. Try to look at it from another angle: if a friend asked you to come and help them build a fence in their yard, what would your immediate reaction be?
A) What time do we start?
B) How much are you paying?
C) I won’t be getting dirty, will I?
D) I think I’m going to be sick tomorrow.
If your answer was ‘A’, then you’re one of ours. Most construction workers love what they do and the pay is just the icing on the cake. If you answered ‘B’ then you still might be in the right place. Construction workers earn an excellent living, especially when you consider that these careers can often be started with little or no post-high school education or the loans that often follow. If you answered ‘C’, you still might be in the right place. There are many careers in the construction industry that are essential to completing large projects: project manager, architect, and engineer to name a few. If you chose ‘D’ then maybe it’s time to explore other options.
“Am I interested in developing the broader range of knowledge and training?” The answer to that question might be found if you ask yourself how much you like a routine. Just like other industries, there are plenty of spots in construction for someone who likes to stick with something they know and love. Maybe your passion is applying a satisfyingly smooth layer of paint on a brand-new surface. No matter how many times you do it, you still get the same sense of accomplishment. Many companies would be happy to have you. However, if you enjoy that sensation but also see the endless possibilities that come along with a brush in hand, then you’re a born learner. Fortunately for you, with increased knowledge and training come increased wages. The more you know and the more skills you have, the more you’re worth to your employer.
“Am I physically up to the challenge and working environment?” There’s no mistaking that a career in the construction trades is physically demanding, some trades more than others. Long days, heavy tool belts, expansive job sites, ladders, bulky materials, power tools, rough terrain, varying weather conditions. If that list doesn’t induce anxiety, try this one: fluorescent lighting, office chair, data entry, computer screen, email, keyboard, file cabinet. Maybe that list makes you want to stick your head out the window and take a deep breath of fresh air. You need to be physically capable for any job, sitting in a chair all day can take a toll on you as well. Maybe the better question to ask is, “Am I physically up to the challenge of sedentary work?”
“Do I have the discipline required to complete and apprenticeship program and have time to study?” US President Theodore Roosevelt once said that “Nothing worth having comes easy,” and the same is true for an apprenticeship. After those long days carrying that heavy tool belt up and down a ladder, going to class or home to study is probably the last thing you want to do. A shower and a meal and a bed are about the only thing on your mind at that point. But hard work pays off in the end. For those who are willing to put in the work to finish an apprenticeship program, rewards await. When you complete an apprenticeship you become a journey-level worker, and those are in high-demand. You will enjoy high wages, job security, and the satisfaction of knowing that you are a master of your craft. Does that sound like the dream that was sold to generations of Americans for the low, low price of $33,310 (the average student loan debt as of Sept. 30, 2018 according to the US Department of Education)? Well I’ve got good news for you! You can enjoy those same benefits while earning money working your way through an apprenticeship. While others build student loan debt, you can build houses. While others make monthly payments towards tuition, you can make payments towards your dream home. So when you ask if you have the discipline to complete an apprenticeship, take a look at the goal and choose where you want the next four years of your life to take you.
Tom Kennedy Director of Education & Workforce | Associated Builders and Contractors of MN/ND