Myth #3 about trade work: college grads make more money

Performance pay often leads to six-figure incomes.


How much do trade workers earn? That’s a difficult question to answer definitively because so much depends on the type of work (construction versus service, residential vs. commercial, etc.), geographic region and other factors, not least of which is the quality of the company they work for. Top-notch companies tend to offer top-notch earning potential.

The skilled trades – plumbing, electrical, HVAC — require years of training and hands-on experience to truly master. Some studies show that plumbers average a little over $40,000 a year, electricians a little less than $60,000 and HVAC technicians around $42,000. But you know what they say about averages: one foot in a bucket of ice and another in boiling water, and on average you feel comfortable.

Don’t think in terms of averages. Nobody should embark on a career with the goal of being average in your field. Think instead in terms of earning opportunity. How much can you make as a top skilled trade worker?

A six-figure income is not out of reach. To make that as a skilled trade construction worker you probably have to work a lot of overtime. As a service trade worker, you need to connect with a company that operates on a performance-pay basis.

That is, their service technicians are paid a percentage of the revenues they bring in. Depending on the company, this may be in addition to an hourly wage, or sometimes the technician’s income is based solely on performance pay. In either case a service technician has a large degree of control over how much he or she is able to earn.

Ability with the tools is only part of what makes a top-notch service technician. The highest paid service technicians must have a congenial personality that enables them to establish a rapport with customers and earn their trust. This in turn will enable them to generate more work from their customers.

Don’t be fooled by aggregated data showing that college graduates earn more money than people without a college degree. That only applies to those whose degrees are in high demand. Skilled trade workers usually earn more than the typical liberal arts major – and much more than those who end up as servers, bartenders and telemarketers, which is the fate of many college graduates whose academic credentials are not highly valued in a glutted market.

In a real sense, the sky’s the limit for how much you can earn once you learn a skilled trade. That’s because once you become proficient and acquire knowledge of the business side of a trade, opportunity abounds to open your own trade business.

Basically there are three ways to become rich in the sense of earning millions of dollars. One is to be a star athlete or entertainer, another is to inherit wealth. Most of you do not have those paths open to you.

The third way is to start a successful business. That door is wide open to any skilled trade worker who also learns how to run a profitable business. Few college degrees offer the same potential.