This article was written by a Millennial-aged electrician from Canada using the pseudonym "Billy Chubbs", and was originally published by the website Return Of Kings on February 18, 2014. This article was integral to my current career path and I post it on Personality Cafe in the hopes that it'll inform and inspire some other young person who isn't sure what to do with their life, or at the very least, think twice before taking on crippling burden of years of university debt. Lengthy, but well worth the read.
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During the last few months of my junior year at high school, we were all sent down to the guidance counsellor’s office to talk about our future, because sixteen and seventeen year old’s are noted and renowned for the wise plans they make for the rest of their lives. I’m sure a lot of rock solid planning went on in the guidance counsellor’s office.
Mostly I think this was a system to vet kids – to find out which ones were college bound and therefore worth focusing on, and which future assembly line workers the teachers could safely ignore. My grades were good so I had a plethora of options (McUniversities) available to me. The counsellor repeated to the point of inanity that if I only worked harder, only took some extra courses, I could up my grades and make it into the *gasp* top tier schools! Like many men of my generation I was an idiot and didn’t fully comprehend the sheer waste that is modern university; though to be all Millenial and put the blame on someone else, nobody really told me the truth about them.
A good friend of mine, whom I’m giving the pseudonym Andy, got a different reception in the counsellor’s office. Andy was a farm kid whose mom had split when he was six. He was abrasive, not academically intelligent but smart in every other respect. Andy was not a stunningly handsome dude, so he did not have a single girlfriend in his three years of high school. In short, Andy was a high school loser. His grades sucked and he knew he wasn’t college bound. He did however, have an actual plan unlike most of our class, many of whom at this very moment are turning into real world losers (see: me). He asked the counsellor about trades. The counsellor, who had spent nearly a half hour with me trying to convince me to bust my ass to get into McGill, opened a drawer in her desk and shoved a few pamphlets into Andy’s hands before showing him the door.
Andy was well-liked by Mr. C, arguably the best teacher in our school. Mr. C asked us all in class what our plans were, showing polite interest in us university kids and real interest in the kids who said military or RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police). Andy said he wanted to work a trade but the counsellor didn’t help him out. Mr. C asked if Andy wanted to meet a guy who ran his own plumbing company. Andy said yes and spent that summer working for the plumbing company. His grade 12 year, he continued to work Saturdays on the boss’s skeleton crew and even days when school was off. While most of us high school ‘winners’ were barely making 400 CAD a month working cashier or fast food jobs in anticipation of the tens of thousands of dollars of debt we’d all soon be taking on, Andy saved nearly six grand.
By the time the September after high school graduation rolled around, Andy could have paid a huge chunk of his student debt before he took one step through the front doors of the university. Instead he went full time to the plumbing company, which sent him away to trade school (no charge) and today he makes nearly 30 bucks an hour. He is only 22. My mom, a nurse who went to university and has worked in her field since she was 21, barely makes 40. My dad, a small business owner, is subject to the whims of the economy. Andy suffers no such worry because, no matter how terrible times get, someone always needs their toilet fixed.
While most of my class are going to be struggling with their student debt until they’re thoroughly middle aged (and probably longer), Andy need only save up six months salary to attend most schools debt free. He bought a small house which is nearly paid off, and his grandma died last year and left him her house (probably from guilt over her daughter abandoning him) so now that small house is being rented out for additional income.
22 years old. Making roughly 55,000 a year, with guaranteed raises as he goes to school and gains more qualifications and certificates – which the company also pays for. Owns two houses, getting nearly 1,200 in rent from one of them a month. That’s Andy, the "loser".
Trades. If you’re going to work, trades. Trades trades trades. You want to get a university degree? Fine – just learn a trade first.
I did it the opposite way, wasted my time in university like a lot of young men today are doing and will do in the future. No, education in and of itself is not a bad thing, but university is far too expensive to pursue just to round out your life experience. You are not guaranteed a job with any degree. And even if its costs were reasonable the universities of today are almost anti-education. Indoctrination.
The stigma against trades in the popular conscience is bizarre and unwarranted. Plumbers and carpenters are portrayed as losers; fat, balding weirdo’s who don’t know how to pull up their pants and are probably drunk on the job – though to be fair, there are a lot of blue collar workers who work while messed up on something. Maybe that cliché was bang on once upon a time but nowadays you can find all sorts of smart, classy sumbitches working in trades, from university grads to body builders. Men go where the money is, and increasingly a lot of the money is in trades.
Of course, there are a few real concerns that you need to ponder about trades should you choose to enter them:
It Is Not Glamorous
This I think is where most of the social stigma comes from. We in the west live still live in a society which values above all else status from both money AND what you do for work. For all the money that Andy earns, his job is literally shitty. He deals with other people’s excrement for a living. Plus all those other fun things people flush down the toilet – condoms, tampons, chicken bones etc. You may not want to become a plumber if you have any sort of faith in humanity. What you find in a septic tank will forever destroy all notions of human nobility in your mind. Tradesmen do not get the glitz of a musician or artist, even though less then 5% of those two groups are capable of even feeding themselves for a living while nearly every working tradesmen can put supper on the table for a big family without worry.
You can physically see jealous lust in the eyes of chicks who wouldn’t give Andy the time of day back in high school when they learn that he owns two houses, pool and hot tub included on his main pad, and pulls down more money in one year then they will earn in three – and that’s if they manage to keep their job. In Andy’s town there’s not a lot of glamorous men with glamorous jobs which can pay the bills, and he’s been getting a lot of overtures from younger girls who couldn’t afford to go to university and are stuck being secretaries and waitresses. Poverty truly is the great equalizer.
It’s Dirty And Dangerous Work
I’m working on getting my electricians certification’s. I could earn more as a plumber but I didn’t want to spend most of my day working in filth. Turns out you pretty much do no matter what you do your trade in. I’ve had to wriggle into crawlspaces with two feet of height, full of rats and mold and all other sorts of rot just to splice a wire together. A guy I worked with straight up got attacked by a feral cat when he poked his head into an attic. Even the most well kept of lived in buildings accumulate certain amounts of filth in their nooks and crannies, and guess where the majority of tradesmen spend their time working?
Note how I said the most well kept; working in trades, you quickly begin to think that either most people are slobs, or that you only work in the houses and buildings of slobs. Recently, we went to work on houses on an Indian Reservation. The power had shorted out in one. We went down to the basement to see what was wrong and the smell practically knocked us out. It turned out that their toilet had stopped working a few months before hand, so they had the genius idea of tearing it out so they could poop directly down the pipes. The accumulated excrement had shorted out the wiring.
There’s no real plus side to this part of trades. There’s always a chance that working as a roofer parts of it are rotted and you could fall through. There’s always the chance that, even if you’re doing a relatively clean job like working on a construction site, a cinder block could tip and tumble onto you, or some idiot could accidentally flip on the breaker while you’re wiring, or a million other things. Trades are not comfy – there’s a reason you’re making killer dough working them.
It’s A Manly Profession
And by manly, I mean people are pissed off and yelling most of the day. A slight exaggeration, sure, but you have to develop some thick skin pretty quick working in trades. There’s no shortage of things that you can do wrong and no shortage of people who will immediately point out what an idiot you are for doing it wrong. Especially as a young guy, the maxim that shit flows down hill is in full effect. Much like in the trenches, any and everything is said without consideration on the job site. If you can’t handle ribbing about your sexuality, your race, your religion or simply cannot listen to comprehensive, personal knowledge of your mother’s genitals from numerous men – including your boss, if you screw up big enough – then working in a trades environment will be torturous for you.
It’s Long And Hard Work
Tradesmen don’t spend 8 hours a day in a comfy climate controlled office, sitting down at their desk slowly typing out an e-mails. You’re out in the elements come rain, snow or shine. Depending on where you live and what trade you work you could be spending several hours a day just driving to and from the job site; 12-14 hours days are not uncommon. You’re moving, stretching, bending all the time, climbing and balancing and hanging off things to do your work. Even if you’re in reasonable shape it can be exhausting. Again, there’s a reason why you’re being paid so well. You earn your pay cheque.
Trades can be difficult work at times but they’re hardly the loser occupations as portrayed in the media. Quite the opposite; I know more losers with an undergraduate or Masters degree then ones with certificates in things like welding or water treatment. And a trade is nearly guaranteed to give one a stable job for life, something which has been taken for granted by many people for a long time and which is steadily becoming rarer.
Unlike the overly glorified, assembly line like work done in offices you cannot just fire competent trades people. If the toilets aren’t flushing properly and the heat only comes on half blast, that affects the boss. If a newly constructed building is falling apart only five years after it’s constructed, that affects the boss’s safety – not to mention his pocket book. And when it comes to the bosses comfort, money and safety, no expense shall be spared. You should be the one receiving that expense.
We’re quickly nearing a point where the majority of work can (and probably will) be done by computers and automated processes. To eliminate humans in trades would require a revolution in robotics technology that is likely still centuries away. At least for the 21st century, the world still needs competent plumbers, carpenters, welders, and the other occupations that build and keep society running. Ignore the stigmas. Get in one, learn it and work hard. You’ll be set for life.