I keep throwing around the term “skilled trades,” and some of you might be thinking: don’t all jobs require skills? To some extent that’s true. But some skills can be acquired pretty easily. The working world is filled with jobs that can be learned well enough for a new hire to perform productively in a matter of days or even hours. The lowliest jobs in construction involve laborers who mainly move materials and equipment around. It takes a strong back but not much skill or training to do those jobs.
Skilled trades such as electrical, HVAC and plumbing require years of training before someone is proficient enough to do the job right. What’s more, these trades are constantly evolving with new products, tools and techniques being developed every year. Someone who learned a skilled trade years ago and hasn’t kept up with new developments is not going to be very successful.
Like everywhere else, technology has brought about big changes in the trades. Computer literacy is a must for modern trade workers.
Electricians today not only work on household lighting and wiring. Increasingly their workday is filled with connections for sophisticated home comfort and security systems that operate off of computers or the internet. Top performers are at the cutting edge of so-called “smart homes” filled with electronic gadgetry.
HVAC technicians also work with a variety of computerized tools and equipment that diagnose equipment performance and failures, pinpoint air leaks, detect blockages and so on. They must learn to install and repair “smart” thermostats that can sense who’s in a room and adjust temperature in accordance with their programmed comfort level.
Even plumbers today work with tools and equipment that render obsolete the old stereotype of “wrench jockeys.” A plumber of today may peer into a sewer using computerized cameras that pinpoint a blockage to the inch. They sometimes install toilets that flush automatically and pamper the tush. They may learn to fix a broken sewer line with advanced lining techniques that eliminate the need to dig up lawns.
Skilled trade workers who install plumbing, HVAC and electrical systems often use computerized CAD (computer-aided design) and CAM (computer-aided modeling) programs. Schematics that used to take hours of work at a drafting board can be completed in a matter of minutes using CAD/CAM programs. Their use is not limited only to high-priced architects. Even small residential builders and remodeling firms use CAD/CAM to give customers an inkling of how the final project will look even before the first hammer strikes a nail.
The complexity of modern trade work requires degrees of skill that usually are defined by certifications and licenses. Acquiring these credentials can take years – although unlike college, workers can get paid while they learn, with pay scales consistently rising as they acquire more and more skills.
Not everyone has what it takes to succeed in today’s skilled trades. Dummies need not apply.