Don’t stop me if you have heard this one before.
“Graduate from highschool, go to college, graduate, get a great job and live happily ever after.”
I was raised believing that was the master plan to success and a happy life. I am willing to bet my next paycheck that you have heard that at least once in your life from your parents, teachers, or coaches. I still hear it echoing in my sleep personally.
“Go to college! Get a great job!”
Well I am here to tell you, only those bitten by the snake know how it feels. It is no secret that there is a shortage of skilled trade workers in America. As a society we have been pushing each generation further and further away from blue collar or production based careers, as America itself has transitioned from a production nation to a service nation. The motto “every American should go to college”, the decline of the auto and steel industries, and a focus on developing internet technologies over the last 30 years has not only created a gap in the skilled trade labor pool, it has guided people to seek careers that are not fulfilling or best suited to their skills and mindsets.
Let me take you back to 2004, I was about to graduate highschool. My senior year I already finished nearly every academic requirement so I filled my day with electives. I took welding classes, and auto-tech. I was obsessed with custom cars and those guys from Orange County Choppers (at least the memes aged well). In my heart I knew I wanted to work with my hands, I knew I wanted to create things. But that wasn’t the plan.
“Go to college! Get a great Job!”
I knew my parents would support me if I decided to go to a trade school or technical college, but they went to college, my older brother went to college. “Go to college! Get a great job!” So that’s what I did… I went and got a degree in history. I had my plan all laid out. Graduate then become a highschool history teacher and coach. Just better and cooler than the D-line coach reading out of the textbook to the class.
Then I graduated in a recession… Folks, it was rough. McDonalds was turning people down with degrees. I survived for a few years as a substitute teacher, or just long enough to see what that great job the diploma was supposed to get me really was like. I discovered I had to teach to a test and stay chained to a desk. I actually felt sorry for the D-Line coaches I was subbing for at least I got to sub for different classes. I will never knock having those summers off though.
When summer hit, as a sub I had a problem, no school equals no money. That’s when my life changed, I was introduced to Low Voltage Cabling. During a recession, I entered as an apprentice making the same hourly wage that I was as a substitute teacher with a degree and numerous certifications. I actually made more money in a skilled trade; the work was more consistent, and oh man overtime is a blessing!
During a recession, I entered as an apprentice making the same hourly wage that I was as a substitute teacher with a degree and numerous certifications.
My primary job was to install low voltage cable networks in businesses and schools delivering internet connectivity throughout and empowering people to work and students to learn. I didn’t realize it at the time but I was also empowering myself. I was not only learning skills and procedures that gave me an employable trade that held value and would continue to do so in a financial sense. I was also learning real world leadership and communication skills, developing self reliance and confidence, I was becoming the best version of myself.
Once I had proven that I learned the basics and those intangible traits began to show I quickly became a crew leader, with increased responsibilities came pay increases. I began to get requests to come on jobs, and be given more and more complex tasks. In less than two years, the same amount of time I had spent trying to get a full time teaching job. I had found and mastered the basics of a skilled trade that I was making more money in, enjoying more, and still had vast room to grow. All I could say to myself was why did I go to college, where could I be now if I started then..?
Like I said only those bitten by the snake can tell you how it feels. Well I went to college, but I never got that great job. At least not from my degree in history anyways. The truth is every American should have the choice to go to college, but not every American should go. Looking back I shouldn’t have gone to college after highschool. While I succeeded there it wasn’t what I wanted to do or to be, it was what I thought I was supposed to do. Some Americans were made to get dirty and sweaty doing work that others can’t or won’t do. Somehow, America has the view that these hard working people are less successful than their office bound counterparts. Well to that I say, it isn’t what you do that matters, but it’s the way you do it.
The truth is every American should have the choice to go to college, but not every American should go. Looking back I shouldn’t have gone to college after highschool.
The value of knowing and having a skilled trade can not be measured only in the dollars and cents of a paycheck. Speaking purely from a perspective of a low voltage cable technician who started as a cable puller and left as a project supervisor and assistant in less than 5 years. It was a constant door to new opportunities, as a low voltage technician I had access to structured cabling positions, security and fire alarm roles, commercial and residential AV jobs, and that is with just Cat5 alone. Defenders of the “go to college plan” often state that blue collar workers have jobs whereas white collar workers have careers. Again, bitten by that snake. I went to school, took the tests, got the grades, and spent two years unsuccessfully finding a job with my degree. Meanwhile, since I left the cabling industry to pursue other professional dreams in 2015, a month has not gone by where I haven’t been contacted about multiple open positions that needed to be filled immediately. That to me is the value of a skilled trade, it made me the man I am today and will always provide me a safety net no matter how high I may aim. I know I can always go back to cabling and not only find work, but a well paying and fulfilling life. That is a peace of mind that I have never gotten from a diploma...
Interested in learning a skilled trade? Check out SkillCat. We provide free online training and job placement to graduates of our bootcamps. You can find our free online HVAC courses for the EPA 608, NATE Ready To Work, and more.