Why Choose the Skilled Trades?

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Erin Izen
Credit: Courtesy The Home Depot

If you’re considering a career in the skilled trades, and the construction industry in particular, you no doubt have questions. Are there good jobs available? Can I earn a decent living? Will I like it?

Erin Izen, director of workforce development and military relations at The Home Depot, has some answers. She and her team work to equip and upskill populations that are often underserved so they can grow their careers. This includes connecting potential tradespeople to careers in the residential and commercial construction and remodeling industries.

Q: Why are you passionate about construction?

A: The construction industry is one of the oldest professions and part of the backbone of our country, creating everything from the homes we live in to our schools and churches and even the basic infrastructure of roads and government. My grandfather worked in one of the first lumber houses in Atlanta and built custom homes from the foundation up. Even the smell of sawdust reminds me of my childhood. By supporting the trades, I’m supporting people like him.

Q: Why construction, and why now?

A: The opportunities in construction and remodeling right now are unprecedented. Older tradespeople are retiring, and few young people are coming behind them. Pre-COVID, there were approximately 300,000 to 400,000 open construction jobs each month. Job openings in home improvement-related trades alone are projected to grow 10-fold by 2028, to more than 4 million, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Plumbers, electricians, HVAC techs and carpenters and their helpers will make up well over half of that number, meaning there will be millions of jobs open in these roles in the next eight years. And these jobs aren’t going anywhere. Unlike some jobs, their tasks can’t be automated.

Q: Can I earn a decent living in the skilled trades?

A: Absolutely.  Average hourly wages are usually over $25 an hour and go way up from there. The Home Depot sees customers every day that started out as construction laborers, then earned their license before eventually owning their business. It’s common for those tradespeople to earn well into the six figures. For example, an HVAC tech can start as an installer, then quickly become a supervisor or operation manager, followed by distribution manager — the ladder keeps going up. And it all comes without the expense of a four-year college degree, which has an average price tag of $106K, not including student loan interest. If you compare the average four-year college graduate to the average electrician (moving from apprentice to electrician III) after 10 years, the electrician comes out on top. And, with the top 10% of electricians making more than $96,000, they continue to grow and prosper. 

Q: What kind of training do I need?

A: Training varies by trade and location, but it can range from on-the-job training only to two years of formal training to obtain an electrical or plumbing license, in conjunction with an apprenticeship program.  There are a lot of options, so you can always find a training program that suits your lifestyle.

Q: What kind of impact is COVID having on the construction industry?

A: As with everything, there is still a lot of uncertainty on how COVID-19 will impact the construction industry long term. Right now, residential construction and remodeling are booming. As people are spending more time in their homes, they are investing in their spaces.

Q: Are women welcome in the skilled trades?

A: Construction needs women. Less than 9% of the industry is female. This is unfortunate, as women make great tradespeople. They are as capable of succeeding as men. And many companies are looking for women. There are a number of grants and organizations dedicated to supporting women in the trades.

Q: Is construction a good fit for military veter

A: It’s a perfect fit for many veterans. They are service-minded and hold themselves to high quality standards. They learn and adapt quickly and are accustomed to changing environments and conditions. They can bring the hands-on skills they learned in the military to their new profession. Enlisted members who are engineers, equipment operators, plumbers, electricians, technicians, etc. find easy transitions, and officers are often good fits for supervisory roles. The trades are also great for military spouses, as trades careers are found in every corner of the U.S.  

Q: How can I be sure construction is for me?

A:Do your homework before committing to a trade. Reach out to local tradespeople and ask to shadow for a day. Spend time on a jobsite. Understand the good, the bad and the ugly of each trade so you can make an educated choice. There are so many different learning programs — do your research and choose the best fit for you and your lifestyle.  

Q: What else should I know about the skilled trades?

A: Construction is a growing industry with low barriers to entry, job security, upward mobility and an ever-changing, fast-paced environment. Yes, you sometimes get dirty because you’re not sitting in an office all day, but for those who like to use their hands, it’s a great career choice!

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