T Nation

Learning a Trade in Your Late 20s


#1

This is a question primarily for the tradesmen here; particularly those working in construction (carpenters, brick masons, concrete finishers, etc). That said, I would appreciate input from anyone in any field.

What are the possible career paths for someone in their late 20s who is considering entering a trade? Would attending a trade school be of considerable benefit, or does it make more sense to search for an apprenticeship right out of the gate? What is the general perception of an apprentice in my age bracket versus someone straight out of high school? Do you believe that my age would be detrimental in my search for an apprenticeship, and if so, do you have any advice on how to overcome this obstacle (i.e. formal education, related experience, etc)?

Essentially, I’m a 27 year old male who is considering a career change from a totally unrelated field. I have very little experience in construction outside of some small, self-taught home projects. That said, I live in a rapidly growing city where the job prospects for tradesmen are very good. Any advice on how to go about this change would be greatly appreciated.


#2

I’m in construction management.

I would analyze your reasoning for wanting to make the change, not because construction is some anomaly of a career, but because it will take investment to be successful. The same would be true if you were considering law school or selling everything to live on a commune.

What trade(s) are interesting to you? What do you do now?

27, is not too old.


#3

I have done this, at about the same time (32yrs. old).

I can give a more in depth response later, but it’s dinner time right now.


#4

Thank you for your response.

I currently work in personal training. I’m independent, so the money is good and work/ life balance is excellent. In order to make it a viable career long-term, the next step – within the next 5 years – would be to open my own facility, which has been the plan since the beginning. That said, I am growing increasingly frustrated with what amounts to working in the service industry and have lingering uncertainty about what the market is going to look like when it comes time for me to open my own gym. While I love my job, there are many aspects that I find exasperating and I question if it is something that I will be able to do for the next 10, 20, and 30 years.

Regarding which trades I’m interested in, I can’t say for certain because I have so little experience in any of them. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve developed a great deal of respect for people who combine knowledge in a field with physical ability to produce something tangible, which is why I’m drawn to construction. That said, I’ve also considered trades as diverse as machining to becoming an arborist or tree doctor, so I’m admittedly all over the place. Things that are important to me in a job: being very good at what I do and having the opportunity to continuously improve my knowledge and skills, a reasonably consistent schedule, and the ability to work at a sustainable pace (I don’t mind being physically uncomfortable and working hard, but I’m looking for something I can do every day for the next 30 years while still having the energy to raise a family and live a life outside of work).

Your point about the investment is exactly what lead me to this idea in the first place. I am currently investing a considerable percentage of my time and resources into my current career, which will increase exponentially if I choose to open a facility of my own. As much as I enjoy what I do now, I need to decide if these resources would be better spent elsewhere.


#5

That’s encouraging to hear, and I look forward to your input.

Hope you have a great meal.


#6

Ok. The nachos were good.

So, what I did was switched from tree cutting to welding/fabrication. It wasn’t a direct route, but it is what it is. I started going to school for engineering during winters and working spring through fall. I quit tree cutting mainly for longevity and money. Bounced around and did some odd handy man stuff, and a season of concrete work. Eventually, I ended up at a company doing repair and mock ups for automated and robotic welding systems. That was good, but there was some restructuring and I had to move on. I went to the local steamfitters, and as part of their screening for apprenticeship, did a stick welding course. Didn’t make their apprenticeship, but did go into fabrication. Worked there for a few years then was laid off due to the economic crash, then back to school for welding at the local CC. Got some national certs., completed their program, then back to work I went. The engineering thing got lost in the shuffle, but now I’m a couple credits shy of an AAS in weld technologies.

Which brings me to this- If you do go into the trades, go with the unions. They have a training/placement program in place that puts you on the work with the know how you need, when you need it. It’s a pretty direct rout from new guy to journeyman, and you get paid way better than non-union work.

I’ve heard a lot of good things about the Carpenters and Electrical workers. I’ve worked on some sites with them and they really are the pros. The Steamfitters is also great too, but they can be hard to get into(at least around here). You seem pretty smart, so go with the ones that will challenge you more mentally. Those are also the ones that are more stable work wise, so you can have a good career with and retire with some benefits. You may not have ample time for recreational activities, but you will have some. Also, almost left out the millwrights. Thats a good option to look into too.

You should also think about some personal traits. Ability to work at heights, mechanical aptitude, tolerance for weather, tolerance for other peoples shit, etc., because they will all be tested no matter which trade you decide on (if any). In fact, fucking with people is probably one of the primary skills in all trades, but to be a fucker, you must at some point have been a fuckee.

Over all, I’ve had a pretty good time with it. I’ve built some really neat stuff, and have an overall good sense of accomplishment and contribution. I wouldn’t recommend it to everybody, but I wouldn’t dissuade anybody from trying either. One of my brothers is a plumber, and he does pretty well, and overall is pretty happy too.


#7

You can do whatever the hell you want man. If this is something you really want to do take a few weeks to come up with a solid plan and execute.

Is there any reason you cant start part time? My friend volunteered with Habitat for Humanity on saturdays and learned a ton of cool stuff.


#8

I worked as a residential arborist for 12 years. It was fun, challenging, had a good mix of physical and mental stimulation and was rewarding in many ways. Much of the time I loved it. I got to do some very cool shit and was capable of things that only a very select group of people could manage.

That said it is physically brutal work. You say you’re alright with working hard and being uncomfortable but how much time have you spent working hard and being uncomfortable? I’ve spent about 20,000 hours doing it and I can tell you at that point when you’re still looking at about 40,000 more hours of the same you may feel differently. There are few feelings quite like sawdust, mud and water flowing down the crack of your ass while you’re 80 feet up a tree running a saw in a rainstorm after 50 some consecutive days of precipitation.

It’s also ridiculously dangerous. My wife was so relieved when I went into law enforcement because it’s so much safer. Tree falling is consistently among the most hazardous activities a person can engage in. Work at height, chainsaw/equipment operation, working near traffic and utility wires. More than once I thought I was gonna buy the farm. Guys get wrecked on the regular and that’s not counting the overuse injuries, blown knees, elbows, shoulders, backs etc. Also, working out outside the work day is a struggle. I would drag my ass home most nights and basically dump calories down my neck until it was time to sleep and do it all again.

Longevity is not great and you need an exit strategy. I was still going strong at 37 and my old boss is still out there running a saw going on 50. That said, we’re both lucky/blessed/anomalies. Most guys by 40 are looking to shift out of the day to day hands on and into consulting/sales/management. That’s fine, but if the reason you want to make this switch is because you want to do hands on thing, well…

Also look at the earning potential and opportunities in your area. Pay and benefits are generally not that great and unless you’re on with a city crew pension is likely non existent. I did get all the sick days I needed, I just didn’t get paid if I didn’t work so I stayed healthy and got over any injuries fast.

That said, I like to think the adversity built character and I learned to think on my feet, solve problems, persevere, stay calm when I’m scared shitless and had some great times along the way. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but I don’t know if I can recommend it either.

Your age is something of a non-issue. I just changed careers a decade older than you. Just do your homework and be smart. In the end it’s all a crap shoot and things rarely turn out how you expect anyway, IMHO anyway.


#9

Have you considered the medical field? Take a look around at Monster, Indeed, or any job search and the need for medical types is huge and will probably never go away. Talk about job security!

I’m talking about X-ray techs, surgery techs, pharmacy techs, optical techs, paramedic, EMT, etc.

You still have to go to school of some kind but the time commitment isn’t as long as a doctor or dentist.

Dont forget that construction is very weather dependent and economy dependent and may lead to periods of not working.

Just a thought


#10

While my experience is virtually identical, I found this part most amusing.

It was actually pretty expensive just to stay fed. On any given night I could put down a large pizza with extras and a whole hoagie (16"). That was on top of two egg sandwiches for breakfast, 1.5l of extra heavy protein shake (500 ml. milk with 2 scoops of pro-powder), several oranges or other fruit, and a large steak or chicken salad and 2 large snickers bars.


#11

I have freinds who are pipe fitters and union electrical workers and once you jump through the hoops you can make bank.
Medical fields may be better and you dont have to wipe asses or have alot of physical contact with patients once again, their is a wait on jobs.
I lot getting into trade unions is political, as in being friends with some of the guys or girls in that union, having relatives in , i now some pipefitters , i 20 years in job and dont want crawl under machines all day


#12

I only work prevailing wage jobs. The young guys are happy because they are making between $40-75/hr. The older guys drag and have a tough time working 4 tens, or, during the summer months, 5 twelves.

It’s a great career, but depending on the trade, you’ll be pretty beat up towards the end.


#13

I appreciate you sharing your experience in such detail.

Based on everything that people are saying here, tree cutting is out for me. I wouldn’t be fully settled into the career until I was in my early-mid 30s, which I imagine is when I’ll be focusing pretty heavily on my family and not wanting to come home feeling like death every day.

I don’t know if I’m smart, but between my mind and my body my mind has always been the bigger asset of the two. haha. Do you have any advice on trades that are more mentally challenging than physically?

Re: personal traits, I’m a bit of a loner. I get along very well with pretty much everyone I meet, I can make a good first impression, and people often assume I’m a “people-person” because I have an easy time talking to people. But, the reality is that I’d rather be by myself 9 times out of 10. I’m analytic and a quick learner, but I wouldn’t say that mechanical aptitude is one of my strong suits. I’m not sure if this is due to a lack of exposure or just how I’m predisposed. Heights and poor weather don’t bother me, but I don’t enjoy or do well in a particularly fast-paced or high stress environment.

Thanks again for all your input.


#14

Volunteering with Habitat for Humanity is a great idea – thanks!


#15

You’ve successful illustrated that working as an arborist isn’t the right choice for me. I really appreciate your insight.


#16

Great input. That’s a path that I considered, but the inconsistent schedule was a big turn off for me. I have a buddy who works as an RN, but with his crazy schedule he’s practically always sleep deprived and struggles to have a life outside of work. It works for him, but doesn’t seem like the right choice for me. I’ll look around to see if other professions within the field have more consistent schedules, because I do feel like I’d be well suited for that kind of work.


#17

Personally, I’d rather average $40-50 K a year and have a consistent schedule, energy to live a life outside of work, and come out the other side with my body halfway intact. I respect guys who can work 60 hour weeks in their 50s and 60s (like my dad), but it’s not a path I can see myself going down.


#18

I loved working 4 tens on second shift. Leaving on thursday night/friday morning and not coming back till 3:00 on Monday was like heaven.

5 twelves was OK for a while, but doing it for a year and a half was horrendous.

Tree cutting was usually 12 to 14, sometimes 16 hr. days for extended periods, but had all winter to rest up and go to school. That stuff would kill me at this point in life.


#19

I really don’t know how some of the guys do it. I work 5 twelves semi-often, but it’s office work. Actually doing physically work would be unbearable for a year and a half.

If I was to choose a trade, it would be welding/pipe-fitter or electrician.