Visit any trades training program in Canada, and you’re almost certain to find at least one person who’s opted to swap their white-collar life for the blue collar. Why people change careers so drastically after investing so much in their education can be for any number of reasons but changing to the trades is a cost-effective gamble for those who flip the switch.

University: An Expensive Default Choice

High schools and student counsellors may be putting a greater focus on trades opportunities today, but for decades, that wasn’t the case. University and college were often seen as the end goal for students – go to post-secondary, get a great job, get married, have a great life.

Unfortunately, with a system designed to push students in that direction, many people dive into advanced schooling without really knowing what they want in life. The trouble with that is, going to university comes with a four-year commitment; four years of earnings potential squandered for sitting in classrooms. For some careers, those four years are a necessity. And that doesn’t even include the cost of tuition, let alone the books and other costs that come with higher education.

Drowning in Debt

For a student who’s never been out in the world, struggling to figure out who they are, a four-year degree is an increasingly expensive commitment. Post-secondary tuitions rise nationally by about 3.6% annually, and the national undergraduate tuition averages around $6,838 as of 2018. Plus books and other supplies. About half of university students cover tuition through student loans that can hamstring them for years.

In fact, it’s estimated student debt was behind one out of every six insolvencies in Canada in 2018. Students are taking an average of 9 to 15 years to pay off their debts, but many are declaring bankruptcy earlier than ever, with 30% of student debtors doing it before age 29.

For women, the news is even grimmer. They’re far more likely to carry student loan debt, especially if they’re single parents. They’re also 10% less likely to be employed full-time than men three years after completing their education. And they’re often not paid equally for the same job.

Trading Up for the Trades

The trades, on the other hand, are pushing for women to join their industries. And for women and indigenous women in the trades, pay parity on union jobs is the norm. Do the work, get paid for the work; no matter what your gender, colour, or sexuality is.

With an ageing workforce and ever-more technical world, the hunt is on for capable tradespeople, male or female. And experts don’t see that need reducing, since new technologies like green energy, autonomous vehicles, and even smart homes are constantly ramping up the demand for skilled trades.

But homeowners will still need traditional plumbers and electricians and car mechanics too. All these careers are underserved at present. For careers like welders, jobs can be easy pickings, and the work is secure. Meanwhile, computer software engineers may be highly paid, but they face the highest turnover out of any job on the market.

Starting a Career Debt-Free

With such a shortage of tradespeople, the Canadian government offers grants for qualifying apprentices in the trades. But even without grants, most students entering the trades will graduate debt-free, because they’ll earn while they learn. Most apprentices do nearly 80% of their learning on paid job sites while being mentored.

For those who’ve changed careers to join the trades, it’s a change that comes with little risk – there’s no need to take out a student loan or go without an income as that career begins.

The Satisfying Career

At times, working in a desk job can be unfulfilling. Data is created and transmitted, emails fly past, keyboards clack and phones ring, but it can feel like effort is sent into the void in exchange for a paycheck. For some, it can be less than satisfying.

Programs like the Entry Level Trades Training course do everything they can to ensure apprentices have practical successes – like getting a lightbulb to turn on – early in training, so apprentices get the thrill of seeing real results from their work.

But that sense of accomplishment is an ongoing theme in the trades, whether you are a newer apprentice doing simpler jobs or a more experienced journeyperson handling complex projects. As tradespeople, they do things daily – fix, repair, change, build. Often, university-educated people who switch to trades say that they simply craved the satisfaction of just getting something done.

What’s Right for You?

There’s nothing wrong with choosing a white-collar career, if that’s the life you want. But it’s wrong to think that’s the only lucrative or rewarding life. Many trades workers take in six-figure incomes just a few years into their career. If you are thinking of switching careers, check out what you need to apply for an apprenticeship at the EJTC today.