How to Get into the Trades

Are you the type of person that thinks college is a waste of time? Maybe you want to do some work with your hands and not deal with that whole college thing. If that sounds familiar, you’re in the right place; let’s talk about how to get into the trades.

We’re Alex and Philip. We teach you what you need to know about your personal finances, using words you can understand (without boring you to death) …because adulting shouldn’t suck.

First, we’re going to talk about why a trade might be right for you and the different education and training you need to get into them. Then, we’ll show you how to figure out which licenses or certifications you need. We’ll also show you how to figure out how much money you would make and the growth rates of the different industries. Lastly, we’re going to show you a way that you can bypass trade school and still get certified. 

Full disclosure, we’re too pretty to be in the trades. Have you seen these faces? Seriously, though, we aren’t in any trade–we joined the military instead–but we do have a lot of friends that have gone into the trade world. We’ve done a lot of research, picked their brains, and figured out what you need to do to get into the trade industry yourselves. 

Why Chose Trades?

A lot of people are starting to realize that you don’t need to go to college to make money. And even if you do go to college, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to make a livable wage once you have a degree.

We have a trade series where we interview people across a broad spectrum of trades about pros and cons, their industries, how they got into it, and what they do and don’t like about it. If you’re interested in going into the trades, check that out here.

Trades are Essential Work

Working with your hands and learning a trade is never going to go out of style. One of the biggest lessons we learned in 2020 is that trades are essential to make the world go around. While plenty of other jobs were deemed nonessential during the COVID lockdowns, trade jobs didn’t skip a beat when it came to making money, for the most part.

Get to Work Faster

Yeah, you have to go to trade school–but trade schools, they’re not too bad, right? It only takes one or two years to complete the program and then you’re qualified for careers like construction management, nursing, dental hygiene, electrician, paralegal aid, respiratory therapy, welding, and a bunch of others that you know are going to be right there.

Sometimes you can even go to the trade school and do the job at the same time and that job will even pay for the trade schoolCrazy

Trades Cost Less to Enter

One of life’s biggest struggles is that people don’t understand money. Sure, there’s more to life than money, right? But there’s also more to life than being broke and struggling to pay your bills every month. 

And that’s one of the main reasons that people are looking at trades: you can go to a trade school, get certified, pay less money to get that certification, start working right away, and make a livable wage. Compare that to going to college, spending 4+ years to get a degree with ZERO guarantee of a decent job when you graduate, AND starting your adult life in debt.

Average Student Loans: College and University

The average student loan payment in 2020 was $393/month. Over half of people with student loans went into default that year (which means they didn’t pay) or they were in deferment (which means they couldn’t pay and they’re kicking the can down the road). 

People are finally starting to wake up to the fact that if they go to college and they come out with a bunch of loans, it’s going to make starting out way harder than it needs to be. The average Bachelor’s Degree takes 20 years to pay back if you have student loans. Can you believe that? TWENTY. YEARSThat’s disgusting.

Average Student Loans: Trade School

The average person graduating from a trade school has $10,000 or less in student loan debt. Most of ’em are paying it off as they go through trade school, so they end up completing the program with zero debt, which is obviously the way to go.

If you’re serious about mapping out your future, we suggest writing down your goals. If you need help with this, go watch our smart goals video. It has a free downloadable checklist to help you write out your goals and figure out your future. If you have your goals written down and put them somewhere you’ll see them constantly, that will help remind you and hold you a little bit more accountable. Let’s check it out.

What is a Trade School?

When you’re first getting started, you’re probably wondering what is a trade school? Well, they sometimes go by the names of a vocational college or a technical school. They teach you the skills required for a specific job, so every class you take relates to that job. Unlike a community college or university, you don’t have to take (and pay for) a bunch of extra fluff classes that you didn’t want in the first place. The programs are a lot more efficient with your time. They focus on what you actually want to do from the very first day.

If you want to find out more about what a trade school is, we actually have a video on it. So make sure you check that out if you want to find out more about trade schools.

How Can I Make More Money?

Join In-Demand Trades

Next up, you need to find out if the trade you’re interested in is actually in-demand. I mean, it’d be real silly if you learned how to be a lumberjack in the desert where there’s no trees…cuz there’s nothing to cut down, right?

Obviously, you want to go to school for a job that is going to be in-demand. And to do that, go to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics or Occupational Outlook Handbook websites. The BLS tells you what they expect job growth to be for the next 10 years in a ton of trades and industries.

If the any of the trades you’re interested in have good growth predicted (or you see no growth predicted, like some do), then you can pick which one would be better for you. While you’re there, you can look up how much money that trade generally makes. You don’t want to go to school if you’re not going to make any money after, you know what I mean?

So do your homework, check out which job you might want, do some research on it, and get it DONE.

Skip Unskilled Labor

So there’s a big difference between being an electrician and being a drywaller, right? Some jobs are going to require a lot more technical training and some jobs you don’t even have to have a high school diploma, or really any training. For example, contractors can just go to a corner, pick guys up, have ’em work for the day, pay ’em a day rate underneath the table, and you’re not going to get that work because they’re able to pay that person less (an average of 32% less, in fact) for the same work. Employers or contractors aren’t going to want to pay you as much money if they could pay somebody else less money.

If you’re in the category that’s considered unskilled labor and you want to get paid a decent rate, you’re going to have to compete against a lot more people, especially if you’re in those bordering states where that might be an issue. So if you want to get paid more, then you need to skip unskilled labor trades and get the certifications that allow you to make more money for those jobs.

Ultimately, if you’re going to get into trade skills, go into the ones that are going to be more profitable. You can find that on the website. Careers in residential services are good examples–plumbers or electricians or HVAC. You’re not going to compete with unskilled labor and you’ll get paid more money, which ultimately makes life easier. #SKILLEDLABOREQUALSMONEY.

How Can I Get Into the Trades?

Next up, let’s talk about the education and training requirements it’s going to take to get into a trade school. Most of the time you’re going to need at least a high school diploma or equivalent.

High Schoolers:

If you’re still in high school, find out whether your high school has any sort of technical school or skill center that you can go to. Some schools have programs like SkillsUSA, which is a program that has hands-on training that helps you get into trade schools. They also do events where they host representatives from a bunch of trades for you to check out and ask questions about those programs.

Community College:

If you’ve already graduated high school, a lot of community colleges offer trade programs.

On-the-job Training

If that doesn’t work, you can always call around to see what type of companies are in your area and then what they require to get you on the job. Sometimes they have on the job training that you could participate in like an apprenticeship program.

Trade School:

Trade schools help you earn a wide variety of credentials that prepare you to enter your chosen trade field. Some of the most common include:

  • Certificates and Diplomas – Complete trade school and master the trade’s essential elements.
  • Licenses – Required by most states. Pass a state exam in order to operate in that field.
  • Apprenticeships – Work in an entry-level position during trade school and gain valuable experience.

Do your own research

To find out exactly what you need to be able to work in any particular field, go to and search, “how to become [insert whatever job]” to see the most common requirements for that position.

If you have a labor union that is local, you can always call them and be like, Hey, I don’t have any experience. I’m trying to look to see what I need to become ______.” More often than not, they will let you know what you need and what programs or companies they recommend to get those credentials.

So check those things out and then find out what you need to become whatever job you want to be.

What About the Shortcut You Mentioned?

US Military

Alright, so if you don’t want to go to (or maybe you can’t pay for) college or trade school, then our workaround for that is the US military. Every branch has positions where you can learn a variety of trade skills and their credentialing programs make it so that you can actually get a civilian job with those skills. In the Army (the branch we both enlisted in), It’s called the Army Credentialing Assistance Program and it helps military members get industry-recognized certifications so that if you leave the military, you can get a job using those skills.

National Institute of Metalworking Skills (NIMS) Accelerated Certificates

The Army has a program where you can get five NIMS certificates in 13 weeks. Now, if you were to take these courses at a community college, it would take you two years to get those same certifications. So that’s pretty awesome, and a lot less time. Each NIMS certification shows that you’ve demonstrated competency in that occupational-specific area for your industry. When you have these certifications, you’re actually more employable, even outside the military, over many civilians. The more certifications you have, the more hireable you are.

Trades that Require Additional Education

Some trade jobs, like a plumber or an electrician, require some additional schooling even after your military job school and service. A lot of the times, trade schools take into account your military experience and service, and apply it to their certification requirements. But you’re still probably going to need some additional schooling, so just keep that in mind.

The Bottom Line: Invest In Yourself

Some employers might be willing to invest in and hire you, even if you don’t have the training or experience. But more often than not, they want you to have the experience and the certifications so you can start working for them (and making them money) right away. Now, whether you go to a trade school or whatever it is you do, you have to invest in yourself and get the certifications or the training if you want to go get a job and be more successful.

Well, there you go. You just learned how to get into the trades industry. In the comments, let us know if you’re going to choose a trade job or not. 

If you have any friends that are interested in trades, make sure you share this post with them. And if you want to find out more about this subject, make sure you check out our YouTube playlist on what a trade job is and how to get into trade school.

Also, be sure to check back here every week for new financial education posts! We’ve got more information coming out all the time.

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