A Front Door Into The Trades

November 20, 2015
Just knock for a rewarding career.

In my last blog I discussed apprenticeship programs and vocational/technical schools as paths into the skilled trades. A third path exists that may be the most accessible of all for talented and ambitious people.

Do a little research and identify successful companies in your preferred trade. Maybe you know someone who works there and have heard they treat their employees well. If you don’t know anyone to ask, stop by one of the supply houses where they buy their materials and talk to the people working behind the counter and the tradespeople waiting at the counter. Ask them which are the best companies around. Once you decide which of these companies you might like to work for, just go there and apply for a job. If you get rejected, go to the next one on the list.

Okay, it’s not quite as simple as it sounds. These are not charitable outfits but private businesses that need to make money to survive. Before you go knocking on their door, better figure out how to respond when they ask you in so many words, “What can you do for us that will help us make money?”

If you have a little trade experience, tell them about the work you’ve done and the projects you’re proud of. If you’re a raw novice with no trade experience, admit that. Tell them you want to learn their trade and are willing to work hard starting at the bottom. And I mean, WAY DOWN at the bottom. Be prepared to scrub and sweep, wash trucks, do heavy lifting and run errands. Don’t expect to get paid much more than minimum wage from the start. Just tell them that you’re willing to do all this as long as it means an opportunity to learn their trade and steadily advance in position and pay as you acquire more skills.

I think you’ll be surprised how many companies would welcome you with open arms if you approach them with sincerity. Our country suffers a desperate shortage of skilled trade workers and most employers have trouble recruiting enough of them. They spend a lot of time, money and energy beating the bushes for the right people. Someone who comes knocking on their door with the right attitude and aptitude will seem like a dream come true.

Most of these companies may not have apprenticeship programs certified as such with the federal Bureau of Apprenticeship Training (BAT). Most BAT-certified programs are union-affiliated. However, many companies operate their own informal apprenticeship programs that may not be recognized as such by the government but nonetheless offer training that can lead to a rewarding career. As an apprentice with them you may be assigned to a lot of grunt work. Just be sure that the company understands you are applying for more than that. In between lowly chores you want to be doing some bona fide hands-on trade work under supervision of skilled trade workers, along with receiving some classroom instruction and independent study guidance. Some companies might even pay for you to attend a vocational school while you are employed with them.

Keep in mind that this scenario will play out only if you have the proper attitude and credentials. Those credentials probably will include at least a high-school education or GED and no criminal record or DUIs. You may have to take exams to show you have sufficient mechanical aptitude, math and reading skills to do the job well, and perhaps a personality test as well. You likely will be required to undergo drug screening before getting hired, so don’t waste your time and theirs knocking on doors if you’ve smoked pot or used any other illegal drugs within the last month or so. First get clean and stay clean.

If you have a minor criminal record or other proverbial skeletons in your closet, it will be harder to get hired but not necessarily impossible. Some companies are willing to take a chance on people with troubled backgrounds. Just be prepared to undergo even closer scrutiny than the average person, and understand that you may need to work even harder and stay cleaner than co-workers who have built up more trust.

Personality counts for a lot. It takes guts to go to a stranger and say, “I want to work for you.” Just be prepared to tell them why and what you have to offer in return.