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Considering Skilled Trades as a Career Path

Skilled trades careers
Baby Boomers are retiring in increasing numbers. As a result, more businesses are finding themselves with shortages of workers to fill the positions these highly experienced retirees are leaving. Especially in skilled trade industries.

Opportunities for entry-level and mid-career skilled tradespeople such as welders, plumbers, HVAC technicians, machinists and electricians have increased significantly in recent years. 

And if you’ve been considering a career in the skilled trades, now might be the perfect time to take that first step. But first, ask yourself a few questions:

1. Which trade fits my interests and passions?
You’ve probably heard the old adage, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” Our recruiters agree.

Do you love working on cars? Perhaps you’d enjoy working as an auto mechanic.  Have you always been fascinated by airplanes? A career in the aviation industry might be up your alley. 

Of course, interest isn’t enough.

Once you determine the skill that excites you most, research the field — online and offline: 
  • Talk to people already working in the field. They’ll give you an honest answer about what it’s like to get your hands dirty, literally
  • Explore the types of skills each career demands — and where you can obtain them. Is it at a college? A trade school? An apprenticeship? Can you learn on your own?
  • Research working conditions, job schedules and salaries 
  • Find out what skilled trade jobs are most in demand in your area

2. What training is necessary?
Skilled trades don’t typically require four-year college degrees, but many jobs will require degrees or certificates from community colleges or technical schools. 

While there are costs associated with training, they’re significantly less than tuition for a four-year university — and the return on that investment in terms of salary, benefits and career satisfaction can make the money worth it.

Many skilled trades positions offer apprenticeships for entry-level employees. Apprenticeships enable you to gain hands-on experience while getting paid for your on-the-job training. You can browse and apply for apprenticeships through programs such as Apprentice USA, which is administered by the U.S. Department of Labor

3. How can I find a job once I’m trained?
Many community colleges and technical schools have relationships with local businesses and staffing agencies. 

Senior Professional Recruiter Matt Wiehe has found many of the skilled tradespeople he’s helped place thanks to his relationships with training institutions. “These schools not only teach you skills — they provide the important networking component that can help get you to work immediately upon graduation.” 

Even if you come highly recommended from a college or technical school, you’ll most likely need to go through an interview process. Recruiters can help you develop interview skills and compose a resume that highlights your skills and experience. 

Dana Sheehan, senior professional account recruiting manager, finds that many skilled tradespeople believe their work speaks for itself. “Our tradespeople are hands-on professionals who understand their craft,” Sheehan says. “But they don’t always see the point of answering a lot of interview questions.”  

This can be a problem when skilled tradespeople interact with recruiters and HR reps. Sheehan recommends candidates be prepared to explain their work in a language that people without a technical background in the industry can understand. 

“Don’t miss out on an opportunity because you weren’t able to explain how well your skills matched up with the job position being hired,” she says.

When it comes to creating a resume, Embedded Software Engineer Recruiter Claire Krieger encourages candidates to list technical skills, industry experience — and to use key words that are found in the job listings themselves. 

“For example, if I’m looking for a candidate to do development work at Honda, GM or Chrysler, I will target candidates who use key words like ‘automotive,’ ‘engine,’ ‘transmission’ or ‘vehicle,’” says Krieger.

4. How much can I expect to earn?
According to Salary.com, most skilled trade professionals earn median annual incomes between $40,000 and $60,000. But that’s not the whole story. 

According to sources like popular financial advice site Money Crashers, plumbers can earn over $103,000 per year and construction managers can earn as much as $130,000. Many variables, including “specialties and training,” location and experience affect salaries.

5. How quickly can I move up the ladder?
Though skilled tradespeople are in high demand, that doesn’t necessarily mean they should expect to start their careers at the top, says Sheehan. 

“Many of the companies I recruit for right now are looking for people to work hands-on as technicians or mechanics. Once you pay your dues, you may be able to move into supervisory or managerial positions,” says Sheehan. “If you can show that you are both a team player and a leader, you’ll have a good chance of working your way up through the ranks.” 

The most successful employees don’t see “working your way up” as an inconvenience or drudge. Instead, they’re able to use it to their advantage, making the most of the opportunity to learn the business at every rung of the ladder. When they earn a promotion, they emerge on top, more aware of the expectations each role demands, more secure in their accomplishments and more knowledgeable about what it takes to be successful in the industry.

6. What does the future hold? 
The skilled trade industries are a great place to be,” says Alexandra Horst. “Skilled tradespeople will always be in demand, and their jobs aren’t going anywhere.” 

“The trades … simply cannot be outsourced,” says The Lowell Corporation, a company that has been building tools for industrial, utility and military applications since 1869. “We will always need mechanics, electricians, plumbers, welders etc. Our roads will always be built here. Our skyscraper projects won’t be constructed overseas and shipped here.” 

If you’re considering a career in the skilled trades, now might be the best time to take that next step. And we’re here to help

Have questions or insights about careers in the skilled trades? Talk to us on Facebook or Twitter.

Job hunting? Visit our job board for the latest opportunities in your area.

Aerotek recruiter panel members:
Paul GianfagnaAlexandra HirtAlexandra HorstKate KellerClaire KriegerJulie LewisMatt LubeckiJake PleggeGina C. PrudhommeRoss MintonKaitlin MorkelJackie RossStephanie SandersDana SheehanMatt Wiehe and Sam Yeomans contributed to this article.