How to Start a Career in the Trades

There is a lot to be said about the skills that can help you start your career in the trades. Whether it’s reading and writing, math or science, these are all important aspects of becoming a professional builder. Check out this guide for how to get started on building your future!

The “how to get into a trade with no experience” is a guide on how to start your career in the trades. It includes tips and tricks that will help you find work as well as what it takes to be successful.

Vintage blue Collar worker in factory Machining.

I often wonder what life would be like if the Internet didn’t exist. To begin with, I’d be unemployed. And now that I’ve finished my series on resurrecting the trades, I’m daydreaming about how much fun it would be to work as an electrician. When I consider this hypothetical situation, the difficulty is that I have no knowledge of electricity. I can read a power meter (maybe there will be an AoM article on this in the future! ), alter a basic lighting fixture, and turn breaker switches. I have no knowledge of currents, wiring, or where my power originates from, for example. I’m clearly not competent enough to just apply for a job with the town’s local electrician and expect to get hired. What steps would I need to take to become a tradesman if I really wanted to follow my ambition of being an electrician?

Maybe you’ve considered learning a skill more seriously, but you’re not sure where to start. You may be a senior in high school who is trying to figure out what you want to do with your life. You may also be a decent middle-aged guy who has spent his whole working life in a cubicle and wants to try something new. Whatever the case may be, use this article as a beginning point for a new career in the trades.

I spoke with some experts in the field, including people from Emily Griffith Technical College and Pickens Technical College in Denver, as well as the IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers — the electricians’ union) and North America’s Building Trades Unions, which is a governing body and lobbying organization for 14 different building/construction-related trades.

To begin, begin at home.

If you’re considering a career in the trades, start with a pastime (or a chore). Many blue collar professions may be started as hobbies, chores, or domestic projects in the comfort of your own home or garage. Do you want to work as a carpenter? You should be familiar with the fundamentals of woodworking as well as how to use power tools. Do you want to be a construction worker? In your unfinished basement, learn how to build a wall. Do you envision yourself becoming a mechanic someday? Play around with your automobile, learn how to change your own oil… you get the idea.

You can study the fundamentals of almost any subject online. While trades demand more hands-on abilities than many other vocations, any trade may be learned via textbooks and YouTube tutorials. While it is not required, understanding the fundamentals of your profession will offer you a significant edge when you begin tech school.

Getting your feet wet in the trades can also help you figure out whether working with your hands is something you like, are competent at, and want to pursue further.

How to Become a Tradesperson

Although the road to trades work may vary according on the trade and even the state in which you work, there is a basic pattern that we may look at:


1. You must possess a high school diploma.

To begin, you must have completed high school or obtained your GED. Outside of retail and food service, there are relatively few occupations available to someone without a high school certificate. Taking the SAT or ACT is very vital, despite how it may seem. While those results will not be used to determine your admission to a four-year institution, they will be considered when applying for apprenticeships (more on that a little later). Math and science scores will be scrutinized in particular, and although they are unlikely to make or break your admittance into a school, they may help you stand out from the crowd in competitive industries and get better internships.

Vintage Shop class Woodworking Painting.

Take advantage of shop class if you’re fortunate enough to attend a high school that provides it. It will help you figure out whether you prefer working with your hands and will provide you with a basic understanding of DIY projects. Even if you don’t wind up in the trades, it will make you more useful as an adult!

You can’t slack off in high school just because you’re considering blue collar jobs. This is particularly true in densely populated urban regions, where apprenticeship applications will be queued out the door. You can sure that better GPAs and exam scores will set you apart in such situations.

2. Obtain formal education in your specialty.

Vintage Shop class auto maintenance Mechanics.

Most craftsmen will attend some kind of education for a year or two after high school, whether it be a community college or a technical school. In many respects, community college is a scaled-down counterpart of a four-year liberal arts institution. In order to acquire an associate degree, you’ll receive instruction in a certain subject while simultaneously being required to attend courses that aren’t connected to your field of study. Community college will also be more expensive since you’ll be earning more credits. Your training at a technical school (also known as a trade school or vocational school) is totally focused on your topic of study. Technical school is usually a shorter curriculum, and you simply get a certificate rather than a degree. In many circumstances, trade employment doesn’t need an associate’s degree, although it may be good to get one for the purpose of having a well-rounded education. It all comes down to your own ambitions, educational aspirations, and finances.

While formal training for apprenticeships may not be necessary, these beginner’s courses will offer you an advantage over other applicants (as mentioned above, especially in urban areas). For example, in the plumbing field, you’d study about water supply and drainage systems, as well as the fundamentals of pipes, fittings, and valves. If I wanted to be an electrician, I’d study currents, power grids, and how to avoid being electrocuted.

You may be able to move straight from high school to an apprenticeship program in more rural locations or in areas where there is a labor shortage, such as the Gulf Coast. It’s also possible that an apprenticeship will have a link with a nearby school, allowing you to acquire your associate degree while working.


While there are exceptions, companies and unions strongly suggest this class work since it leads to stronger apprenticeships, which leads to the next and most essential stage for an aspiring craftsman…

3. The traineeship.

Vintage blue Collar workers working on Engine Pieces.

Apprenticeships are usually managed by a local union chapter, although non-union contractors may sometimes operate them. Non-union programs are few and few between, so if you decide to go that way, do your homework on the program’s quality (more on unions below). To learn more about non-union certification/apprenticeships, contact your state’s labor agency or even local technical institutions.

The apprenticeship phase of your trade profession lasts 4-5 years and includes paid on-the-job training as well as classroom instruction (which may or may not be paid). You’ll submit a written application and take an aptitude test to be considered for the position (you can see why some formal schooling would be helpful). You’d most likely be working under the supervision of a Master craftsman, who would then sign off on your hours completed, enabling you to advance to the next stage of your career.

You should anticipate to earn around half of what you would as a qualified craftsman during your apprenticeship, and each year you will earn a little bit more. This is usually between $10 and $20 per hour in the first year. Not only is it a great compensation for someone just starting out in a job, but these are the years when many young men are spending five figures a year to attend a four-year college.

Listen to Mike Rowe’s podcast regarding the trades:


4. Achieving the status of Journeyman or Master.

Vintage Architects office men looking at Blueprints.

Before applying and testing to be a Journeyman, you must complete a specified number of apprenticeship hours. That title simply indicates that you have finished your apprenticeship, passed a test assessing your abilities and knowledge, are no longer required to operate under the supervision of another person’s license, and are now a qualified craftsman.

After 3-6 years as a Journeyman in most trade professions, you may work toward becoming a Master. This requires further classroom instruction as well as passing a certification exam. Passing the exam and becoming a Master is similar to moving up from General Manager to Regional Manager in terms of compensation and perks, but it also comes with additional responsibility and employees reporting to you. A Master Tradesman is often in charge of obtaining licenses, creating systems and plans (rather than just putting them in place), and instructing apprentices and Journeymen.

5. Identify your area of expertise and pursue more qualifications.

Being a Mr. T (having a broad range of knowledge as well as skill in one or two areas) is useful to your career, just as it is in white collar jobs. In the case of my electrician, if I became a Journeyman, I’d most likely find a speciality as a residential electrician, a research electrician, a hospital electrician, or even a marine electrician. The trades have so many different specialities that after you’re qualified, you’ll be able to discover something that interests you.


To summarize, the steps to become a craftsman are as follows:

  1. Obtain a diploma from a high school (or GED)
  2. Attend a community college or a technical/vocational school to take classes.
  3. Obtain an apprenticeship that will last between 2 and 5 years.
  4. Obtain a license from a labor union or a trade organization, usually with the titles of Journeyman or Master.
  5. Continue to improve your abilities and get further specialized certificates.

You should be aware that some of the deals have shorter paths. To become an aviation mechanic, for example, you must enroll in an FAA-approved school, complete classroom and practical training for 1-2 years, pass a test, and be authorized to operate on planes. Auto mechanics, as well as less sophisticated occupations like commercial painters, follow a similar route. Additional qualifications are available, as they are in most blue collar industries.

With so many different professions and specialties available, it’s critical to do your own study into what your intended line of employment entails. This is where Google comes in helpful; if you search for “How to become a…” on Google, you’ll frequently receive results that are directly from government regulatory sites or union/trade organization pages. Mike Rowe’s website is another excellent resource for locating schools in your area, obtaining scholarships and financial aid, and obtaining contact information for trades organizations (don’t be afraid to call — everyone I spoke with was extremely helpful and delighted that someone was interested in the trades!).

If You’re a Veterinarian

If you’re a veteran of the United States military, you may have had (or are experiencing) difficulty finding work that suits you. You may not be aware of recent changes in the workplace, or you may have just determined that working in an office isn’t for you. Helmets to Hardhats, a non-profit organization, was founded with such people in mind. It aims to link veterans with construction-related training, apprenticeships, and, eventually, long-term professions.

The best part about this program is that it requires no previous expertise or training. All of this will be covered by the military at no cost to you, and you may even augment your apprenticeship income with Montgomery GI Bill benefits. They also work with Wounded Warriors to give injured veterans with similar chances.

Getting a Job: A Quick Overview of Labor Unions

If you aren’t a member of a union, it might be difficult to find out what they are. Office workers are typically just aware of what they read in the newspapers, which is often political. I met with Tom Owens of North America’s Building Trades Unions to clarify several points regarding how unions operate.

Approximately 3/4 of tradespeople belong to a union. Those who aren’t have obtained certification via a different way, giving them the flexibility to work anywhere they want and for whatever pay they want – if they can find job, that is. While the benefits of unions are widely discussed, they are a fact of life in our labor market (no need to get into the pros and disadvantages of unions here!). In most circumstances, there are legitimate advantages and disadvantages to being a member of one.


A union, in its most basic definition, is an organization that advocates for its members’ wages, benefits, hours, and working conditions, among other things. They’re organized around certain crafts — such as electrical, construction, and aviation maintenance — and bargain directly with employers.

As previously stated, the majority of tradespeople have been certified by a union. After you’ve completed your apprenticeship and received your certification, you have two options: 1) Use the union’s recommendation program to get a contractor employment, or 2) become an entrepreneur and create your own company (in which case you’ll likely receive union aid with business training and support). If you choose the first option, as most people do, your salary, benefits, and working conditions are all established by the union’s collective bargaining agreement. All of this is encapsulated in a contract known as a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). These agreements will be for a specified period of time, after which they will be renegotiated. When you hear about strikes in the news, it’s because a union and an employer are unable to reach an agreement on the CBA’s terms. Although being a member of a union takes away some liberty, independent data reveals that most union employees earn more money than they would if they went it alone. If you’re a member of a union, finding work will be quite simple, particularly if you live in a large location. If you reside in a remote area, you may have to drive a long distance to go to work. If you aren’t a member of a union, you apply for positions, market your qualifications, and bargain the same way you would for an office job.

Working in a state with a Right To Work statute is another aspect to consider when deciding whether or not to join a union. These laws, which have been approved in 24 states, make union security agreements illegal. In layman’s terms, this implies that a union cannot compel an employee to join it. A Right To Work Act, for example, implies that if someone wants to work at a UPS loading facility and there is a union in existence, they don’t have to join the union in order to work there. In places where there is no Right to Work statute, the union might include a clause in the CBA requiring all workers to join the union.

Click here to check which states have Right To Work legislation. If your state does not have this rule, it may be more difficult to get employment as a non-union worker, since unions/employers may very much force non-union workers to join (at least in terms of paying dues).

When it comes to unions, the seas are still a bit murky for me, particularly because each one has its own set of rules and governing bodies. Please feel free to share your thoughts and more information about unions (or your specific union) and how they function in the comments section.

Conclusion of the Reviving Blue Collar Work Series

Vintage Teel workers New York Skyscraper waving.


Pictures of oiled elbows, blue oxford work shirts, and hulking ironworkers with a hard helmet on their heads and hammer in hand used to conjure up images of the archetypal American worker. Today, it’s a slim man traveling to an office park packed with cubicles with a Mac in one hand and a Starbucks in the other. While this transition isn’t entirely negative, it has had a detrimental impact on our society. We’re bigger and out of shape than ever before, we’re more stressed out than ever before, we’re more bored at work and move professions more often than ever before, and people in general regard themselves as less happy than they were 50 years ago.

In today’s culture, there seems to be only one diagnosis and remedy to these problems: you must not be doing the job you were “meant” to perform, and everything will fall into place once you uncover your real passion. Despite the fact that people have been attempting to follow this advice for decades, men do not seem to be any happy than they used to be.

It’s time to replace the never-ending and sometimes futile quest for one’s passion with a search for happiness and fulfillment, and to recognize that such rewards may be found outside of white collar job.

For the last 70 years, it has been assumed that top students will attend a four-year university, get a bachelor’s degree (at the very least), and then work their way up the corporate ladder until they reach the corner office on the top floor. Only the worst pupils wind up in trade school, and blue collar job is seen as a dead end.

In reality, blue collar employment offers several advantages and should be seriously considered by every high school student considering what to do with his life or any guy now employed in a job he dislikes. The income is high, the job stability is good, and trades employment has a lot of intangible benefits, such as more autonomy and the joy of working with one’s hands and solving real issues.

Blue collar employment, in the end, is worthy of much more respect than we now accord it. Tradesmen are responsible for making America what it is today. Our infrastructure of plentiful electricity and clean water, as well as our buildings, roads, houses, and automobiles, were all erected by the calloused and greasy hands of blue collar workers. Bootstrapping men on iron beams hundreds of feet in the air developed our ethos of hard labor, hustling, and boldness. While it may seem that these professions belong in a museum in today’s world of techno-entrepreneurs, nothing could be farther from the reality. New skyscrapers, ample electricity, modernized roads and highways, and drought-resistant water systems are still needed in America. These are tasks that the artisan, not the white collar office worker, takes on.


Throughout this series, I’ve attempted to convey the vital importance of both sorts of employment in our society. We need people who can work with their hands as well as those who spend most of their time in front of a computer screen. So, if working in a cubicle doesn’t seem like the proper route for you, disregard the old prejudices and illusions that only bachelor’s degree-required occupations are excellent ones. Those ready to get their hands filthy are desperately needed in our world (and you’ll be highly rewarded for it!).

I’ll be performing So You Want My Job interviews with craftsmen in different sectors throughout the year as part of my series on revitalizing blue collar labor. Plumbers, truckers, welders, mechanics, and even an elevator technician are among the professions represented. Keep an eye out!

Complete the Series

4 Misconceptions About Skilled Trades Working in the Skilled Trades Has 5 Advantages What Is the Best Way to Begin a Trades Career?



The “learn a trade skill for free” is the best way to start a career in the trades. The skills that are required for these careers are very different and can be learned by anyone.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the easiest trade to get into?

A: The easiest way to get into trade is to have a friend on the game.

What is the best trade job to get into?

A: This is difficult to answer as different people have varying opinions on what a good trade job entails. Your best bet would be to do some research and try a variety of things out until you find something that fits your personality.

What trade jobs are in demand?

A: The top 3 most in demand trade jobs are construction, mining and electricity.
This is because these trades require a lot of physical labor which makes them easier to find skilled workers for as well as creating more opportunities for unskilled laborers.

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