Trade Up


The American political landscape is troubling. Some call it a dumpster fire, others say it’s finally on track. Who knows? Instead of drudging through that mess, let’s continue the discussion about education and talk about trade schools. My dad, husband, and father-in-law all work in the trades, and in doing so have provided for their families. Large incomes can be found in the trades, and the demand for these jobs is unlikely to decrease. Unless, of course, they create a robot that can fix a broken pipe. Trades encompass many job sectors, from cosmetology to HVAC. According to, “Trade school students can typically choose from several trades that lead to many careers. Specific trades vary by school but often include carpentry, masonry, electrical and construction management, and automotive technology. Other common offerings include cosmetology, HVAC, and computer-aided drafting and manufacturing”. These careers can easily earn excellent incomes without accruing massive amounts of student debt. Mike Rowe said it best during an interview with Fox News which is quoted in The Mission, “We are lending money we don’t have to kids who can’t pay it back to train them for jobs that no longer exist. That’s nuts!”. With the plethora of trade jobs available today it’s clear these trades need incoming students. Many don’t realize just how many options there are for careers without college degrees.

There are several career pathways to choose from, so essentially there is something for anyone who wants to pursue a trade versus spending a fortune in college. Popular Mechanics stated, “media from The Wall Street Journal to PBS have hailed technology schools and programs as harbingers of a new economy and reformers of a post-secondary education system that’s become over-priced, over-valued, and often irrelevant.” This isn’t to say that college is a waste of money. Rather, for many, it may be better to pursue a trade rather than a degree that which they may not use in the coming years. Why pay for something you don’t even need, right? Instead, prospective students can look at the following careers: carpentry, masonry, electrical and construction management, automotive technology, HVAC, computer and information services, aviation, electronics, metalworking, transportation, health care, and cosmetology.

Carpenters work in many areas. Mostly “construction projects, building, repairing, and installing structures and fixtures made of wood and other materials. Carpentry students learn to read blueprints, measure and cut materials, install fixtures and structures, and build and install building frameworks”, according to  The professionals work up through levels of achievement, starting with an apprenticeship where they’re taught by an experienced person and learn hands-on from them. This kind of learning has worked for thousands of years and when the student becomes the master.

Masons specialize in “how to build structures using stone, concrete, and brick. They…read blueprints, cut materials, mix mortar and grout, and build corners. Masonry programs also cover building code requirements and safety and first-aid practices” These jobs also require an apprenticeship, and the skills are suitable for a variety of careers. Every building with concrete or bricks had masons working on it at some point.

Electrical and construction managers “plan, manage and supervise electrical and construction projects. In these programs, students learn about construction methods and materials, building codes and standards, building science, and project management. They also learn how to work with engineers, architects, and other construction experts” The construction sites we’ve seen are managed by these professionals.

Automotive technology encompasses many things. When you go to get your oil changes or to a car dealership these people fix your vehicle. There are also levels to those professions starting with a more basic tech role to master mechanics and so forth.

HVAC professionals keep the heating and cooling world going. The A/C in your home, that refrigerator keeping your beer cold at the store, and the furnaces that heat schools are just a few examples of what these people maintain. They are in high demand year-round.

Aviation is what you’d expect it to be. Flying helicopters and airplanes, perhaps the occasional UAP as well (just kidding!). The people who fly helicopters from the traffic accident to the hospital are aviators, and so are those who fly hundreds of people in planes daily.

Electronics are, well, you’re using one right now to read this. It takes skill to fix all of these gadgets, and those skills are learned both on the job and in a trade school. This job would go hand in hand with computer-aided drafting and manufacturing training. A well-rounded technical education allows them to work on CAD software and manufacturing processes.

Metalworking is a dangerous job without proper training. The jobs can pay well in this field, and there are usually openings. You’ll learn skills necessary for manufacturing everything from cargo ships, to tricycles.

Transportation is a huge industry. The big rigs on the expressway and the mail carriers are part of this continuously moving machine designed to keep the world going. Training for a CDL does cost some money, but the salary and benefits in the first year or two alone will more than compensate for it.

Several health care careers can begin in trade schools. Phlebotomists, CNA, and other tech certificates are available. These roles often lead the employee to further their education by becoming the nurses we rely on and the techs who run the life-saving hospital machines we need.

College education is great for some, but not so much for many. People who would rather work with their hands and do well working with other people may fare better learning a trade. People who have one or some of the skills listed above will have a job in the future.

By Gretchen Hendrick Gardella, MLIS

Gretchen Hendrick Gardella is a Librarian with administrative, research, and vast technical skills. Ms. Gardella brings over 16 years of experience working in academic and public libraries to the discussion.