Myth #4 about trade workers: they’re always getting laid off

Job security is higher for skilled trade workers than most other occupations.


This myth originates in the fact that construction work is highly cyclical. While it’s true that when work slows down many construction workers get let go, this deserves a closer look.

In my last entry I said that nobody who enters the trades should strive for mediocrity. Mediocre performers in any field will always be vulnerable to layoffs, whether due to business conditions or employers looking for better replacements.

Mediocre trade workers also are vulnerable, but the best skilled trade workers are in short supply. When a contractor identifies someone as a top performer, he will do everything possible to keep that person on the payroll for the next upturn. I’ve known contractors whose work ran completely dry at times but who nonetheless would keep their best people employed fixing up company facilities, painting trucks and at other make-work jobs. These employers know how hard it is to find truly skilled and ambitious trade workers.

Also keep in mind the distinction made in an earlier post between construction and service work for the trades. Trade service work has its ups and downs, but the service side of trade work is nowhere near as volatile as construction. In fact, service work often runs countercyclical to new construction. That’s because when construction markets are in a slump, people hang onto their properties longer. This leads to more repairs, replacements and improvements of mechanical and electrical systems.

When service work does slow down, many service firms compensate not by laying off workers but by reducing their hours. Almost everyone would rather work at reduced pay and have more time off than be out of a job. When this happens, almost always you find that the top performers work more hours than inferior colleagues.

Something else that’s little noted about skilled trade jobs: they can’t be shipped overseas nor does automation cause these workers to lose their jobs. When a skilled service trade worker does get laid off due to lack of work, it’s usually because the company isn’t marketing itself properly or loses business due to a bad reputation. Better firms will pick up that market share and be on the lookout for experienced service technicians.

If worse comes to worst, someone with superior trade skills will find relatively few barriers to establishing their own trade business. Numerous trade workers earn a decent living as independent contractors hiring themselves out to neighbors, friends and as far as word-of-mouth can spread.

No matter how bad the economy may get, our society relies upon functioning mechanical and electrical systems. The jobs of installing, repairing and maintaining these systems never become obsolete. The systems themselves may give way to new technologies, but that leads to more work replacing the old with the new.

When it comes to job security, high-performing trade workers have less to worry about than people in most other employment sectors. They are to be envied more than pitied.