Trades Myths Debunked: Money & Smarts

Here at BridgeWorks, we’re no M5 Industries, but we’ve been known to bust a myth or two. Through our work in the manufacturing and skilled trades industries, we’ve encountered a number of negative stereotypes and stigmas associated with trades and manufacturing careers. These stigmas are exacerbating the trades gap, pulling future potential Millennial and Gen Z electricians, carpenters, machine operators, and welders off of the fruitful path to a rewarding career in the trades and onto a much more expensive four-year-college-degree track. While college is a great option for some, it just isn’t the right fit for everyone.

So, if you’re a Millennial, a Gen Zer, a parent of a Millennial or Gen Zer, or just someone who cares about the future of labor, tune in! In this three-part series, we’ll explore six common myths about the next generation and skilled trades. Read on for your first debunking of two popular myths.

You can’t be financially well-off while working in trades and manufacturing.

A common misconception is that those who hold jobs in the skilled trades make less money than those who earn a four-year degree. First of all, there are around 30 million jobs in the US that pay an average of $55,000 per year and do not require a bachelor’s degree. It’s even possible for skilled tradespeople to make a six-figure salary. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for construction managers in 2017 was $91,370—the highest 10% making more than $159,560 annually, not including bonuses. And it’s not just construction managers. In the wake of the #tradesgap, mainstream media has begun churning out profiles of thriving Millennial tradespeople, including a piece on a Texas Millennial who earns $140,000 per year as a welder and an apprentice ironworker who earns $60,000 yearly while continuing her professional training.

Salaries aside, let’s talk about student debt. Many Millennials who are graduating from college are doing so with tens—and often hundreds—of thousands of dollars of student loan debt. In fact, the typical American household with student debt owes $49,000. On average, households with college graduates who are in their twenties spend over $350 per month on student loan payments. That’s $4,200+ per year! A hefty sum that could otherwise be tucked into a 401K, savings account, or mortgage down payment.

A career in the trades is typically built on a trajectory that’s much easier on the bank account. Many jobs in trades sectors do not require four-year degrees, but rather a two-year degree, certificate, associate’s degree, or other certification available at your local technical college. Most trades schools cost approximately $33,000 on average and only take two years to finish, while four-year institutions cost upwards of $120,000. And this could be changing even more in the favor of vocational students in the near future. Many states are taking legislative strides to make technical colleges even more affordable as well, and Tennessee has made all of its technical colleges free.

Trades and manufacturing jobs are for people who aren’t smart enough to go to college.

We can throw this notion right out the window just from reading the debunking of myth no. 1. In many cases, it’s fiscally smarter to go into the trades! But that’s just the beginning. While intelligence can take many forms, plenty of smart people pursue trades and manufacturing careers. For many jobs in these industries—such as architectural drafters, electricians, construction managers, and solar technicians—a strong foundational knowledge of mathematics is an important requirement. Despite the myths that popular culture and even educators have perpetuated, many trades jobs present viable career options for those who consider themselves academically talented and might have otherwise considered a four-year degree.

Furthermore, for those who feel like high school was a struggle and the academic trajectory isn't for them, opportunities abound in the trades. But let’s make one thing clear—just because high school isn’t your jam does not signify a lack of smarts. There are many forms of intelligence (see: Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences), and traditional education primarily emphasizes logical-mathematical intelligence (number smart) and linguistic intelligence (reading/writing smart). It’s not uncommon for trades professions—auto mechanics, pile drivers, and welders, for example—to utilize bodily-kinesthetic intelligence (body/movement smart) and intrapersonal intelligence (decision-making smart). Don’t let the rumors fool you otherwise.

There you have it! The next time you hear someone disparaging trades jobs due to a misconception that they’re not profitable or that they don’t require smarts, consider yourself armed to refute. Millennial and Zer involvement in the trades depend on us changing the conversation, so stay tuned! These myths aren’t going to debunk themselves. We’ll be back with more mythbusting savvy in our next installment of Trades Myths Debunked!