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Thread: Go to college vs. learn a trade?

  1. every body dreams of being an all star player for 20 million a season. My Mrs. was making 6 figures just three years out of her two year nursing program. That is almost impossible to beat. My daughter, for whom learning came hard, was offered a tuition free program to get her CNA certificate. It was a six week program. She can quit a job in the morning and have another in the afternoon. it may not pay great, but runs about twice minimum wage. She gets all the overtime she can handle or want. I know some with graduate degrees that drive fork lifts. One particular extraordinary guy I know, was always honor roll in school and was deans list in college. He quit college after his third semester and went to a Diesel mechanics trade school. He then went to some other trade school for a few months. Ten years later he owns a company that specializes in heavy construction equipment repair. He charges more per hour than I did as an attorney and between he and his three employees, can't handle all the service calls he gets. Crappy work in the heat of summer and cold of winter. He tells the story of tearing down and rebuilding a transmission on some huge quarry machine. Zero degrees, blowing wind and snow and working 30 hours straight to finish the job. He presented a bill that was more than a fancy new dump truck and the owner 's reply was Is that all? The guys brother has always been a car mechanic and has trouble paying his bills.

  2. #17
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    I wasted several years at college before finally dropping out and getting involved in a more hands-on type job, which led me to where I am today. Looking back, I regret not going that path sooner. My wife dropped out of high school and wasted time doing non-college stuff for a few years. When she did go back to school, she earned a PhD. All our brains are wired differently. I think we should prioritize investing more in finding what a young person's aptitude is and then "how can we facilitate a path to making you a contributing member of the workforce, in whatever capacity that may be?". Just my thoughts,

    Erik
    Felder USA Territory Representative: Central & South Texas

  3. #18
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    The high school math book used to have some interest rate problems. Interesting to see that starting a trade right out of school and saving some money every month turns out better then delaying investing for 4 years plus. Takes until late 50's to catch up assuming college salary is higher in late years.
    Bill D

    PS: they no longer use those books.

  4. #19
    My 0.02 from pretty much 30+ years of self employment is that it matters more what the individual is looking for out of their life than it only being about a profitable income. Someone who is sound in the notion that they want to do what they love even if its not going to result in the cookie cutter American success story can be happy being anything. That notion usually gets relegated to artist, philosophy, craftsperson, or even tradesperson. But if they are OK with it as an individual, they will be fine. If on the other hand someone has a desire for several children, marriage, home, cars, boats, jetskis, IphoneX, Hulu, Netflix, 200/mo Satellite/cable package, European Vacations, snow skiing trips to Vale, well, they have a different set of criteria.

    Of course the notion of "doing what you love" is wonderful. But if doing what you love is art, and you dont land a show at The Met or Moma, and you want the IphoneX and the European vacation,... klunked.

    Sure seems at this point in time the smart move is a move in hands on-high tech. So a melding of college and technical training. Precision machining, trading an "art bent" for some sort of digital design/marketing, and so on.

    I dont think the employers (even new ones) who would value a degree are completely on board with hiring some non-degree'd individual who shows promise, yet. They still want some institution to qualify the individual at some level which is all a college degree has ever done for the most part anyway. An individual with a degree in Phys. Ed will trump a non-degreed 10 year veteran employe on an internal job posting in an insurance company only because #1 the corporation has imposed a policy to support institutional higher education regardless of qualifications, and #2 because the college process "supposedly" shows that the individual left their parents nest, got their butt out of bed, made it to class, passed at some level, on their own accord. It of course takes nothing into account for how many keg parties were attended, couches were tossed off porches and set on fire, dorm rooms were destroyed, or any other multitude of ways that college attendees seem to find to waste their parents tuition savings or their own future student loan debt.

    I personally dont value a college education any more than a good hard working farm kid. Its the personality and where their head is at that will dictate how well they will do in any workforce. But the non-degreed individual will be denied a lot of potential opportunities where they could crush it merely because we are still stuck in the hold over of supporting an institutional system of higher education that isnt really working out so well.
    Sometimes I just want to look at pretty pictures,... Thats when I go to the Turners Forum

  5. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by Keith Outten View Post
    Some college grads are so deep in debt they will never pay back their loans. At the same time they my never own a home because of their educational debt. If your going to borrow money you had better be in a field that can provide a serious salary with growth potential. I have two daughters and personal knowledge concerning their college loans.
    This was my concern with my younger, but she wisely choose to get her four year business degree at Penn State Abington and live at home. (19 majors are now available at 5 of the larger commonwealth campuses for full four years without going to the main campus for junior/senior year) That right there cut about $10K per year off the cost of her education because of living expenses and she can also work her regular job (front of house and back of house at the local restaurant she's been with since age 15...she practically runs the place) 25+ hours per week at double minimum wage. She has unsubsidized loans, but her total debt will be less than a decent car costs these days and we provide that for her anyway.
    --

    The most expensive tool is the one you buy "cheaply" and often...

  6. #21
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    I dont think the employers (even new ones) who would value a degree are completely on board with hiring some non-degree'd individual who shows promise, yet.
    Many years ago one of my daily habits was to read the help wanted ads. There were many requiring a college degree, usually 2 years, to apply.

    Employers often were not concerned about which degree for many positions. They wanted someone who would take the time to improve their mind or abilities.

    In my youth, many jobs were easy to find. There were also many that offered training. This was a period when there were still some apprenticeships in some trades. One of my early apprenticeships, at about 15 or 16, was as a stage hand.

    My mechanical abilities from childhood paid off with jobs in bicycle shops.

    My first excursion into community college was to learn art and silkscreen printing. That kept me employed for a number of years.

    My second excursion was to get a degree in microprocessor technology. Credits from my semesters of an art student helped toward a degree. The degree helped me to find employment in the manufacturing of drafting machines and repairing engineering copiers and blueprint machines.

    This was followed by more work in building and testing electrical power distribution control equipment. The communications protocol for power control systems was called SCADA, Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition.

    A funny thing happened after that job. My next employer was a public transit system. One of my positions there involved working on the fare collection equipment. During one of our many meetings it was mentioned the new equipment would have an underlying SCADA communications system besides the network communications. It seemed no one but me knew what SCADA meant. By opening my mouth it was on me to be the "expert" for the SCADA communications. Lucky it was all easy to learn fairly quick.

    Some trades can keep a person employed and earning. Others can be a dead end. A good trades person can find lots of work if they can be more than a one trick pony.

    One part of my story is that it wasn't about the money so much. My outlook eventually turned around to making sure there would be enough to live well, though not extravagantly.

    jtk
    Last edited by Jim Koepke; 10-03-2019 at 7:50 PM. Reason: corrected spelling and wording
    "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."
    - Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

  7. #22
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    Apprenticeships are still alive and kicking out there, but their availability is going to be much greater for folks in and around a metropolitan area because many of them are run by the trade unions which have a higher concentration in those areas. I have a friend who went through that and she's doing amazingly well, although her work requires a lot of travel which isn't pleasant for a single parent. She's a millwright; the work is hard, the hours are long but she was well trained for both the work and the safety.
    --

    The most expensive tool is the one you buy "cheaply" and often...

  8. #23
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    I live in Alberta. Here in Canada the apprenticeship system is alive and well,every province runs there own system. Here we find an employer who is a certified Journeyman and willing to apprentice you and sign the contract. The system is set up so you work 1300 hours per period and then go to technical training for 8 weeks ,after you pass your exams then you move up to the next period. For the trade of Carpenter it is a four year apprenticeship. Four school sessions and 5200 hours of work experience. I completed this in 1992. Since that time I have apprenticed three guys all the way through. I have my own business and have been self-employed for 25 years. I still like being on a roof and the phisical aspect of my work. However i now have a shop that I built and am starting to transition to building kitchen cabinets and custom work (furniture). One of our good family friends has a wife who is a nurse,she was really upset when she figured out that I made as much or even more than she does. I followed the road of doing what I loved and would not regret that even if it had not worked out as well as it has. There truly is more to life than money.

  9. #24
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    I went the trade route. I hated school. I started roofing in 1984 I also worked at a lumber yard building roof trusses I was the sawyer. I cut wood on a center line saw most have never heard one or seen one. Metra cut was the one I ran.
    Its like Radial arm saw except the table could move in or out and rotated for the angles.
    I stopped roofing professionally in 2009.
    I attribute my handtool skills to my roofing. I also taught my self how to carve during the winter when it rained.
    Im a woodturner/ carver/furniture craftsman.
    Heres a Santa I carved one year.
    Attached Images Attached Images
    Last edited by Andrew Hughes; 10-04-2019 at 12:43 AM.
    Aj

  10. #25
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    I’ll keep it short.

    I have been a tradesman all my life. I worked in some fashion since I was nine years old. At 16 I climbed to the top of my first 40’ ladder and go tot work. I was scared shit but got ahold of my fear quickly and go to working. I was fooled by what felt like quick cash or good money. Staring back in like 93ish I never made less than $22.50 am hour.

    I started as a house painter and honestly hated it. I won’t get into why but just say I really really hated it. With what felt like limited options I began learning other treaded I felt more refined. My thought was I could be more happy and live with myself if I did X vrs. Z...

    By 25 I was so miserable I took a opportunity to race road bicycles for next to free “all expenses paid and a small income”. I did this for five years doing a handful of projects in the fall to offset my lack of income. Never in my life was I more happy. It was very very hard work. Way more hard than any job in the trades I ever have had. But I loved it and I love hard work so you know it worked.

    Post cycling I came back to the trades with much reluctance. I again focused myself to the high end customs hime market focusing the best I could in finish work. I took up ice and roach climbing about this time and once again found myself living in the parking lot of the Craig for almost another five years. Again I was broke but had just enough means to make it all work. I was never more happy, just like cycling. Ultimately I took a 30’ direct ground fall onto a rock ledge. I scarred the shit out of a guy that nothing scares enough I never climbed again.

    I went back that trades as a finish carpenter/fine home builder. I was miserable, completely miserable. If you are like me “Uber liberal” or even a little liberal you might consider the trades will probably be very challenging as most are very conservative.

    As a result I made one last ditch effort toward cabinet making. I rather enjoy cabinet making but it’s far from the dream of furniture maker. Being in a shop is far better than out in the trenches but it’s still tuff on the body. The aches and pains are real and accumulate as you get old. I’m genetically gifted physically and as a athlete. My body is like a machine and even I have so many work related chronic injures it’s nuts.

    As others have said when times are good it can be very good concerning money. When times are tuff it can be very very bad concerning money. You’d best be good at managing money at the least and you had better not want all the toys and of five kids as suggested above.

    I woulda never worked out in a traditional office type setting, when I was a kid the options were much different. These days so many professional work remotely and have unique work situations. If those options had presented or I had looked for them they may had been better than the trades.

    But I’m always saying money is not everything. I get so mad that so many make choices that dictate money be their driving force in life. They pursue this money at the expense of everything else and they make themself miserable. As a result everyone around them is also miserable. As a society I think the value we put on money equating to happy is a huuuuuge problem.

    On the flip side head up shits creek without a paddle for long enough the. Then you tell me how your happiness thrives vrs plummets.

    It’s a balance I guess but happiness is paramount as not much else is worth a dam if your not happy.

  11. #26
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    I managed to stay in school until I was 30, and might have kept going but that my bride-to-be insisted it was time to get my first real job. Prior to that I was jack-of-all-trades in the family business, doing whatever was required to maintain 100 acres and 22 buildings for the family business. I've made plenty of use of both the academic and practical education I had.

    I think that viewing college as a kind of trade school that will prepare you for specific employment is a mistake, and way too many people go to college with no particular outcome in mind. Given that almost no one will do only one job during their lives now, and that any specific knowledge you learn in a class will pretty much be irrelevant in a decade, I think the key role of college is to prepare one for a life of change and learning. If my kids come out of college knowing how to learn a new skill or set of knowledge, how to think logically, how to write, how to find information, and how to interact like civilized beings with a basic understanding of math, history, chemistry, biology, philosophy, literature, music and art I'm pretty happy. A few years of grad school or equivalent can top up the expertise needed to get a first job, but having the basics of knowing how to think, learn, speak, and write is what will carry them through the succession of jobs that constitute a career.

    Education of this kind is wasted until the student is ready to embrace it. All kids are different and we really err in trying to force them all through one pathway. The money and time wasted on sending kids to college who have no interest in learning yet is mind-boggling. Both of my kids, one a college grad the other not yet, are currently in or just finished ~1 year certificate programs, in one case for computer science and the other for travel and tourism. These programs are focused on letting the kids get what they need to get a first job in a field as quickly and cheaply as possible. This seems like a tremendously efficient way to approach the job training issue.

  12. #27
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Dufour View Post
    I have heard the least physically demanding trade is electrician so it is best for women. Not as much heavy lifting as other construction trades. It also requires the most math skills to calculate allowable load per panel, cable size ampacity etc.
    Most other construction trades all the math is done in the office and the results are spelled out on the plans. Rafter angles etc.
    Being an electrician is pretty tough work still though. Disagree on the math in the office, you need to at least have a crew chief on site that checks the office's math. An entry level framer isn't really a trade, he's just filling a role on a crew. The guy running the framing crew has a trade.

  13. #28
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    Quote Originally Posted by Patrick Walsh View Post
    I’ll keep it short.

    I have been a tradesman all my life. I worked in some fashion since I was nine years old. At 16 I climbed to the top of my first 40’ ladder and go tot work. I was scared shit but got ahold of my fear quickly and go to working. I was fooled by what felt like quick cash or good money. Staring back in like 93ish I never made less than $22.50 am hour.

    I started as a house painter and honestly hated it. I won’t get into why but just say I really really hated it. With what felt like limited options I began learning other treaded I felt more refined. My thought was I could be more happy and live with myself if I did X vrs. Z...

    By 25 I was so miserable I took a opportunity to race road bicycles for next to free “all expenses paid and a small income”. I did this for five years doing a handful of projects in the fall to offset my lack of income. Never in my life was I more happy. It was very very hard work. Way more hard than any job in the trades I ever have had. But I loved it and I love hard work so you know it worked.

    Post cycling I came back to the trades with much reluctance. I again focused myself to the high end customs hime market focusing the best I could in finish work. I took up ice and roach climbing about this time and once again found myself living in the parking lot of the Craig for almost another five years. Again I was broke but had just enough means to make it all work. I was never more happy, just like cycling. Ultimately I took a 30’ direct ground fall onto a rock ledge. I scarred the shit out of a guy that nothing scares enough I never climbed again.

    I went back that trades as a finish carpenter/fine home builder. I was miserable, completely miserable. If you are like me “Uber liberal” or even a little liberal you might consider the trades will probably be very challenging as most are very conservative.

    As a result I made one last ditch effort toward cabinet making. I rather enjoy cabinet making but it’s far from the dream of furniture maker. Being in a shop is far better than out in the trenches but it’s still tuff on the body. The aches and pains are real and accumulate as you get old. I’m genetically gifted physically and as a athlete. My body is like a machine and even I have so many work related chronic injures it’s nuts.

    As others have said when times are good it can be very good concerning money. When times are tuff it can be very very bad concerning money. You’d best be good at managing money at the least and you had better not want all the toys and of five kids as suggested above.

    I woulda never worked out in a traditional office type setting, when I was a kid the options were much different. These days so many professional work remotely and have unique work situations. If those options had presented or I had looked for them they may had been better than the trades.

    But I’m always saying money is not everything. I get so mad that so many make choices that dictate money be their driving force in life. They pursue this money at the expense of everything else and they make themself miserable. As a result everyone around them is also miserable. As a society I think the value we put on money equating to happy is a huuuuuge problem.

    On the flip side head up shits creek without a paddle for long enough the. Then you tell me how your happiness thrives vrs plummets.

    It’s a balance I guess but happiness is paramount as not much else is worth a dam if your not happy.
    I agree, finding happy is whats missing, to much we're taught that $=happiness. Nothing could be further from the truth. I wish I could teach that to my kids but it's one of those things that I think they have to discover themselves. Took me 40 years and a change of career to get it.

  14. #29
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    I wore a few different hats over the years. When I was in high school I worked in a greenhouse picking tomatoes, I then went into printing and was a cameraman stripper plate maker then into construction where I ran heavy equipment then onto the concrete crew. I moved to the truss shop then out to the framing crew where I was the garage door installer after that they moved on to the finish crew and became the painter. I ended up at the shop and was the utility guy that would fill in any crew. I then moved to another company that I was their cabinet maker and did suspended ceilings and flooring. After that I started my own company that repaired remodeled and installed new drug stores. All this time I would help out in the spring for a crop service place. I ended up building trade show exhibits and setting them up. So I guess you could call me a jack of all trades.

  15. #30
    It depends....The person making the choice should do some investigation before making the college/trades decision. Many colleges offer courses that will not provide a career that will support an individual. They have no obligation to teach what is needed for an actual job. If the student is looking for a position that requires a degree, such as architect, engineer, doctor, lawyer, etc then college is a must. If that student can figure out which end of a screw driver to hold onto, then the trade school route isn't for them. On the other hand student likes hands on work then a trade is a good choice. Many trades require an apprenticeship which will likely require some additional schooling and possibly college level courses.
    Lee Schierer
    USNA- '71
    Captain USN(Ret)

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