What Do We Mean By A “Skilled” Trade?


June 12, 2015

Plumbers are worth more than philosophy professors!

Throughout this blog I’ve been using the term skilled trade worker as if it is common knowledge. In thinking it over, however, I’m not so sure everyone understands how important is that word image of skilled trades“skilled.”

The reason so many people shy away from trade work and look down on it is because they associate the trades with grunt work filled with dirt and grime and heavy lifting without much need to use one’s mind.

People who think like that need a smack across the noggin! They are the ones lacking in intellect.

Sure, there are some jobs in construction and manufacturing that don’t require a lot of ability or training. Some low-skilled laborers do nothing but haul materials around or demolish structures and they are paid accordingly, barely above minimum wage. But the skilled trades demand much more and lead to much more rewarding careers.

This blog concerns itself mainly with the plumbing, HVAC and electrical trades. That’s because they are among the most important and intellectually demanding. These are trades that cross boundaries into service and maintenance as well as new construction work. The service trades are as much about using one’s brain to diagnose problems as they are about turning wrenches.

Few people realize that it takes as long to train a plumber, electrician or HVAC technician as it does to get a college education. Most certified apprenticeship programs span three to five years. While some training programs are shorter, it generally takes years of on-the-job (OJT) training to get a trade worker really up to speed in his or her craft.

The skilled trades require both practical and theoretical knowledge. It’s not enough for a plumber to know how to put pipes together. He or she must understand fluid mechanics to determine what size pipe to use, how to route it and what materials to use for different applications. Electricians must understand the intricacies of electrical circuitry. HVAC technicians must be intimately acquainted with thermodynamics. All of the skilled trades require better than average math comprehension and exceptional mechanical aptitude.

Shame on everyone in our modern culture who has lost sight of the irreplaceable contributions made by skilled trade workers to our daily lives. It wasn’t always this way. I grew up at a time when only 20-25% of Americans went to college. The best of the rest often ended up pursuing a skilled trade and they were just as respected by society at-large as college graduates. Now, more than 60% of Americans have attended college and around 40% of them end up with increasingly useless degrees. School counselors keep encouraging high school students to prepare for college when many of them are more inclined by aptitude and ambition for the skilled trades.

People have lost sight of the fact that when your toilet isn’t working or your furnace breaks down in the middle of winter, a skilled trade worker plays a much more valuable role in our society than a philosophy professor.