In the era of hot takes, wild Reddit discussions and constant think pieces, the battle of college vs. trade school has finally come back into vogue. And it’s about time. It’s a cultural discussion worth having because in the last twenty to thirty years we obsessed about getting a degree, and what we’ve learned since is that that degree doesn’t work for everyone.
The value of a degree is only worth the paper it’s printed on in some cases and because of the inability to get a job in the field, people settle for whatever pays, often to the tune of anything that takes the sting out of their crippling student loan debt. While yes, a degree in computer science is likely going to land an excellent job, trying to make heads or tails out of bachelors in Russian ballet with a minor in children’s art is going to be a hard roll while living in Akron, Ohio. Recently, the Center on Children and Families released a brief regarding smarter decisions about higher education, which argued that a traditional four-year degree isn’t the no-brainer it was once considered.
Because more and more people were suckered into believing college was the only option for a good life, they stuck it out and got the degree. And now they’re unhappy. They don’t like the hours, the environment, the culture of chit chat and feel stuck. But, what if you walked away? What would happen if you dropped everything and joined a trade? What if you started roofing or building stuff? Became a plumber or decided there was more cash in wrenching on cars than making sales calls?
Working blue collar is A-OK
There’s nothing wrong with working with your hands. For some, the question isn’t about whether or not the work is terrible, but looking back on their working life as a significant part of their existence, asking “was spending these last decades in an office how I wanted to spend my time?” For a lot of folks, it turns out that answer is a hard no.
Some people want the freedom that comes with working outside, with their hands, or by not slipping into a business casual outfit for the day. For many, there’s an argument that white collar work has become the new assembly line: a constant of monotony while something like carpentry or plumbing offers new challenges with different projects every day.
There’s a basis of thought with the argument: do you long to make the judgment calls that impact the work, or do you want to perform a task while someone else is left holding the bag. Working with your hands requires a sense of ownership because if the work is terrible, it’ll show. The accountability is attractive because there is a constant of mental stimulation instead of tasks being homogenized to suit an everyman sensibility that doesn’t come with the expertise of moving through the ranks of apprentice to journeyman.
Every day is an amazing challenge
A white collar job can mean stress, and some don’t handle pressure well. The business world can be cutthroat and while getting through school can be easy, once there’s a paycheck involved, some don’t adapt, no matter how successful.
While Gen-X was obsessed with that college degree, Millennials have taken ownership of the economy with finding ways to monetize their passions with blue-collar work or creating things with their hands. And with the gig economy flourishing with short-term opportunities to make fast money, there’s always a back-up plan while figuring things out.
Employment in the trades is booming thanks to the crossroads of tech and culture, the tech community is building new structures and transforming neighborhoods or challenging what people thought of towns across the world. One thing that draws people to blue-collar work is that it often pays well and the more experience you earn as a senior worker, there are plenty of opportunities to earn.
Plus, knowing how to fix a carbonator is a valuable skill to have. The Department of Labor projected a 24% growth rate for carpentry through 2022, which doesn’t require a degree, everything is learned on-site as an apprentice, to the tune of $90K a year.
All trades are on the rise with cities like Austin ready to train immediately and start out newbies with a lucrative wage that makes paying rent a lot easier than working in a coffee shop with a degree in post-modern cubism. Plus, there’s always overtime when it comes to construction or millwork – if you’re lucky enough to get a job with a city and water main bursts in the middle of the night, someone’s gotta get up and fix it, and when that person rolls out of bed at three AM, it’s usually on triple time. If you’re making $35 an hour regularly, but triple time is in effect to get the job done before rush hour kicks in, that’s a couple of hundred dollars.
Making that kind of money with all kinds of holidays off allows anyone with a passion to pursue it with financial stability.
And because a blue collar job requires that training and many are unionized, there’s a lot of fail safes when it comes to job safety. In many cases, when you join a crew, you’re in for life. This is good news because as automation continues to come for everyday jobs, we’re a still a long way off from a robot mastering how to carve wood. Do you really think in ten years there’ll still be check-out lanes and people working counters at a fast food joint? Someone sorting through the mail? Or even someone checking the gauges on the water meter? Probably not. If these jobs do exist, it’ll be on the back of companies staying dedicated to the human touch rather than the clear financial gains from automating everything.
Think about all of the new industry emerging right now: Marijuana is gaining legality across the country with each election. Someone has to maintain the industry, just the same with all of the green technology like wind and solar. No matter what the industry, things need replacement and upkeep – that’s a career.
If you’re staring at the computer and realizing moving things in a spreadsheet isn’t what you want to do with your life, there’s no shame in getting out. Go start that co-op in your neighborhood, build cabinets, or start the Etsy for handsewn clothes, whatever you hustle, there’s an industry ready and waiting for you. Love this blog? Check out the others!