The Skilled Trade Path

By Troy Wallin- Vice President:

I have two high school aged children, a soon to be senior and junior. We’ve spent the last 6 months or so intensely looking at college/career choices (casually looking for years now), and I’ve been continually struck by the lack of any discussion or consideration of young people towards a career in a skilled trade. My experience and opinion is that kids, counselors and academics generally view a skilled trade track as 2nd tier or worse to a collegiate path. The career fair I attended at my kids’ high school was void of any and all skilled trades. The college fair at their high school was dominated by expensive, traditional 4-year colleges, where discussions of financing and debt happens right after seeing pictures of lazy rivers and rock climbing walls.

For some kids, many even, the traditional four-year college is a terrific pathway, gaining them tremendous life experience and diverse, highly valuable education. Armed with a diploma and a strong work ethic and a bit of luck a lucrative job and career path as a white-collar professional is available to many of them. It’s fantastic and in many ways describes the American dream.

This pathway, however, is just not a good fit for many kids right out of high school. I don’t have any interest in criticizing the 4-year college track but instead wish to emphasize the exceptional opportunity skilled trades offer these kids for postsecondary education and training. Due to my own expertise and career I’m going to use becoming an electrician as a comparable to 4-year schools below.

Becoming an electrician has a low barrier to entrance – tools and willingness to learn and work hard is all that’s needed.

  • $500 to $1,500 in tools, boots and rugged work clothes
  • Pays $16 to $18 an hour to start ($33K to $38K per year) – about 40% higher than minimum wage for a small employer like us and most electrical contractors. Full benefits, no cost for insurance premiums for employee and all dependents and a very good 401K investment/retirement plan for their future.
  • Bi-annual reviews with increases in compensation as skills get acquired and grow. Average increases of around $8,000 per year!
  • Current salary expectations for (01) licensed electrician in the Seattle market $100K+, plus a top of the line benefits package.

Skilled trade vs. 4-year college institution costs.

  • Electrical trade – paid training, zero debt, ~ $100K + in 4 years, full employment market with increasing demand.
  • Cost of 4-year college education between $80K and $200K. Varied employment outcome with most students graduating with significant debt.

How to get started:

General info: