DIY Skills & Techniques

Skilled Trade Workers Love Their Jobs—Here Are 7 Reasons Why

Common beliefs about blue collar workers have led to a concerning shortage of skilled labor, despite growing demand it. These beliefs are actually false—and in fact, there has been no better time to launch a stable, satisfying, and lucrative career in the trades.
Evelyn Auer Avatar
A close up of hands holding home improvement tools.

Photo: istockphoto.com Pollyana Ventura

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What You Need to Know

  • Job satisfaction among skilled trade workers is high compared with satisfaction rates in other industries.
  • There is an urgent need for more skilled trade workers to enter the labor force in the U.S. 
  • Recent studies indicate an increase in interest in the skilled trades among college-aged adults. 
  • Some of the biggest benefits of learning a trade are lower educational costs, on-the-job training, competitive salary, job stability, steady demand, specialization options, and self-sufficiency. 

According to a 2023 study by Thumbtack, 87 percent of skilled trade workers report being happy with their job. But despite this high satisfaction rate, many young adults continue to choose to attend traditional 4-year institutions over trade schools after graduating from high school. This discrepancy matters: According to Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), a national construction industry trade association that represents over 23,000 members, the construction industry is short on labor by over half a million workers. But why aren’t enough people considering this career path? 

The apparent preference for white-collar careers can be attributed to a number of factors, but it’s fair to say that many Americans believe that white-collar jobs will afford them better work-life balance, opportunities for advancement, or earning potential. What is surprising, however, is that a career in the trades may tick more of these boxes than some might expect. Those who are entering the workforce for the first time, or who are looking for a career change, may want to consider some of the benefits of learning a trade. 

1. Lower Educational Costs

Many high school graduates feel that getting a degree from a 4-year institution is the most reliable path to a stable career and see the cost of higher education as an investment in their future. A recent Jobber survey of 1,000 U.S.-based Gen Zers found that 40 percent of respondents plan to attend a 4-year college or university, but they are also concerned about paying off their student loans. These concerns are not unfounded, as the average college student graduates with $27,400 of student loan debt. According to a report by the Education Data Initiative, it takes graduates an average of 20 years to repay their student loans. 

Attending a vocational or trade school not only costs less on average than a 4-year degree program, but it also takes around half the time to complete a program. This means students can enter the workforce and start earning sooner. The average cost of plumbing school, for example, is only around $3,000 per year. By contrast, a 4-year program at a public university costs $9,700 per year. Private institutions are even more costly, with the average nonprofit private university charging $38,800 per year for a degree.

2. On-the-Job Training

Most traditional college courses are conducted through lectures in a classroom or online setting where students are expected to listen and take notes. However, many students thrive in a more hands-on environment where they are able to learn by doing. Vocational school provides the opportunity for students to receive training on-site. In some cases, students may be able to participate in apprenticeship programs where they are paid for their work while undergoing training. 

Niki O’Brien, an operations manager at Custom Exteriors, LLC in Berthoud, Colorado, initially trained as an electrician. She says of her education, “I loved having the ability to be outside and have a consistent change of scenery rather than sitting at a desk every day.” This benefit typically extends beyond the training period as most trade workers travel to a variety of jobsites. For those who dread spending the majority of their workday inside an office, learning a skilled trade may be a desirable alternative.

Kyle Stumpenhorst, owner and founder of RR Buildings in Franklin Grove, Illinois, was one individual who discovered that the office life was not what he wanted. “I…received a BS in computer science and found a great job right out of college in my field. Very quickly I realized working in an office and completing tasks that seemed to have no tangible meaning to me was not what I wanted. Luckily, I was learning how to remodel while fixing up my first home and instantly fell in love with the challenges and also gratifying results of my hard work and what I could do with a pile of materials and my own two hands. After a couple years of learning and doing side jobs, I made the decision to start my own construction company and never looked back!” 

A close up of a person's hands fixing flooring.
Photo: istockphoto.com andreygonchar

3. Competitive Salary

A common misconception about the skilled trades is that workers have less earning potential than they would in a white-collar profession. While salaries vary greatly depending on the industry as well as the education level and years of experience an individual has, plenty of skilled workers make over six figures. An average plumber’s salary can range from $37,250 to $101,190 annually. Electrician salaries are comparable with a range of $37,440 to $102,300. There may also be a surprising number of advancement opportunities in the trades, especially as older workers retire and leave positions vacant. According to Andrew Prchal, co-founder of Gunner Roofing in Stamford, Connecticut, “I don’t think people realize the pace in which you can get promoted or even promote yourself and your own services when you have experience in a trade.”

The current shortage of skilled workers has also meant that those who are working in the trades are earning more than they otherwise would if there was less demand for their labor. Brandon Walker, a superintendent for ASAP Restoration in Tempe, Arizona adds, “I think that many people would be surprised at how well we do financially in the trades. There’s a reason that plumbers and cardiologists both charge $250 an hour, and it has to do with supply and demand. The fewer tradespeople there are, the more we can charge for our services, and that can add up to a great living.” 

Trade

Median Annual Salary

Electricians

$61,590 

Flooring installers

$48,690

General maintenance and repair workers

$46,700

Heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers

$57,300

Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters

$61,550

Roofers

$50,030

Solar photovoltaic installers

$48,800

Wind turbine technicians

$61,770

4. Job Stability

The rapid development of artificial intelligence (AI) technology in recent years has led to concerns about job security in white-collar professions. As AI is able to replace more and more advanced processes in the workplace, there are valid concerns that this technology may begin to take the place of jobs that were previously performed by employees. These concerns have been bolstered by recent waves of layoffs, particularly in the tech industries. 

Trades are generally considered to be less vulnerable to being replaced by AI since they require skilled physical labor that cannot be easily automated. It’s possible that this understanding is gaining more traction with young people entering the workforce. The Jobber study found that 56 percent of Gen Z respondents believe that blue-collar jobs are more stable than white-collar jobs.

Additionally, construction and other trade workers can be assured that there is a need for their skill set no matter where they live. According to Walker, “Having a skill that you can take with you no matter where you go in life is a big [benefit]. I could live in any state and my skills will be needed. I could move to another country and I’d still be able to find work.” Many trade workers also start their own businesses, which provides even more control and stability. 

5. Steady Demand

Even throughout fluctuations in the economy and the job market, trade jobs tend to stay stable since demand for them is relatively consistent. Regardless of whether the country is in a recession, construction workers are needed to build and maintain infrastructures that keep society going.

According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), the stock of owner-occupied housing in the U.S. is aging steadily in addition to fewer new homes being built to keep up with demand. In fact, the median age of owner-occupied home is around 40 years old. In addition, the demand for newly built single-family homes is increasing; NAHB also estimates that the U.S. will need to add more than 1.15 million new homes annually to combat the current housing deficit.

Combined, these two statistics clearly show the need for skilled workers—both to repair and maintain older homes and to build new ones. Additionally, more homeowners who would have moved to a new home when there was more inventory available are instead choosing to remodel to improve their homes up to meet their present needs. Whether it’s cosmetic fixes like removing outdated carpet and siding, or more extensive repairs such as replacing plumbing or electrical systems, maintaining these older homes means there is always a need for the type of work a handyman does

Two men in yellow hard hats construct a roof.
Photo: istockphoto.com Srdjan Pavlovic

6. Specialization Options

When people wonder “What does an electrician do?” the first things that usually come to mind are installing light fixtures or rewiring houses. In reality, applications for electrical skills are broad and can apply across many industries. Electricians can specialize in solar panel or wind turbine installation, for example. They can also choose to primarily do residential or commercial work, which may each have their own pros and cons. 

The same principle applies to many other trades, from building to plumbing to mechanical work. Some specializations may be more informal. A handyman, for example, traditionally does household tasks such as hanging drywall or assembling furniture. But a handyman’s salary may be higher if they acquire training for more specialized tasks such as plumbing, HVAC repair, or electrical work, since they’ll be able to take on more jobs.

Having a base skill set to build upon also means workers can pivot later on in their career should they decide they need a change of pace or want to advance into a higher-earning field. For example, someone who initially studied carpentry to install features such as doors and window frames in homes could decide to pursue making custom furniture later on if they wanted to do something more creative. On a different note, skilled laborers who aren’t ready to retire but prefer to do less physical work may choose to start a business and manage their own employees rather than being out in the field. 

7. Self-Sufficiency

One of the reasons construction workers are always in high demand is that just about everyone needs something built or repaired at some point. Skilled laborers find that they are able to be self-sufficient in this regard. For instance, an HVAC technician will never need to wait around for a repair person when the heat goes out in the middle of winter—they can fix the issue themselves. “You save money by being able to provide yourself with these services that people usually dread having to spend [money on] to keep up with every year,” adds Prchal.

O’Brien met her husband, who is a plumber, while working on a job. She adds that between the two of them, they are able to tackle any home maintenance project themselves. “The garbage disposal went out—no problem; Mike can fix it. The electrical outlet stopped working; I’ll handle it. We have re-sided, reroofed, repainted, and remodeled our entire house for a fraction of the costs because of our abilities.”

It’s clear that working in the skilled trades has many benefits. In addition, there’s a steady and increasing demand for experts in areas such as electrical, HVAC, and renewable energy. Those considering a skilled trade as a career—or who want a career change—can look into the requirements in their state for their chosen occupation, then take the next steps to obtain training, ultimately decreasing the deficit of skilled trade workers.