Picking A Trade: Options Provided By Trade Schools

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    You’ve already made a significant decision in deciding to pursue the skilled trades, but there’s another big decision you have to make: deciding what trade you want to study and practice. This decision is akin to picking a major in college, but it’s not as forgiving. Most colleges provide the flexibility to switch majors at any point during your education, even if it requires some extra work. Trade school on the other hand doesn’t offer that luxury as the school you’re attending is often associated with a specific trade, such as culinary school. However, being a very practical set of careers, you can usually figure out on your own, with some certainty, which trade interests you most. 

    Ways to Get Familiar with Different Trades

    • Pre-apprenticeship Programs:
      • Most trade schools have pre-apprenticeship programs that allow students and young adults who are interested in trade school to get associated with the trade and decide if they’re interested in the work. Doing a pre-apprenticeship program in high school can be a good way to get a head start in the trades and figure out what interests you.
    • Doing Work in Your House:
      • One of the best ways to find a trade that interests you is to take part in household activities. Try cooking dinner, helping lay tile, or completing a small fix on a family car like replacing a headlight. Even if your parents don’t do any of those activities, try them for yourself and make it as low stakes as possible. Start small with basic household tasks and work your way up to bigger projects like framing walls and rerouting plumbing. Take an interest in maintaining and working around the house and you’ll quickly find something that interests you. 

    Factors to Consider

    • After you have explored the trades that interest you, do some research into the field and make sure it’s something that you’ll enjoy.
       
    • Ask friends, family, and professionals for advice. Others’ opinions aren’t as important as your own, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have anything helpful to offer. Chances are, if your friends and family see that you’re really interested in something, they’ll support you in continuing with it in trade school.
       
    • Don’t be afraid to focus on a specific niche. If you’re really talented or interested in something as specific as working with concrete, working on bathrooms/showers, or fixing small equipment like chainsaws, weed eaters, or lawn mowers, then pursue that. There’s often plenty of money to be made in niches because there’s higher demand for the work than people who are experts in providing it. 
    • At the same time, you might consider choosing a flexible field if you’re still unsure of what you want to do. Becoming a mechanic, for example, can take you in multiple directions which you can consider as you continue in the field. You might work on small vehicles like ATV’s and golf carts, marine vehicles, cars, trucks, or you might move away from vehicles entirely and be a machinist.
       
    • Consider the average salary in a trade, but only after you know that the trade you’re considering interest you equally. Chances are, if there’s a trade that interests you and you work hard, you’ll make plenty of money, especially considering the number of openings and opportunities out there.
       
    • Even after you start attending a trade school or apprenticeship, you can still choose to go in a different direction. If you’re an apprentice on a job site and you’re interested in some of the other fields on the job site, then ask questions and consider changing fields. Some trade schools offer education in multiple trades and if they don’t, the faculty will be happy to recommend you and connect you with a trade school that serves your new interest. 

    Making Your Decision

    • Weigh all the factors and your interests and come up with a logical decision. Run your decision by friends and family and see what they think. Obviously, your opinion is the most important, but it helps to get different perspectives.
    • If you’re not incredibly passionate about any specific trade, even after doing research and looking for trades that interest you, then just choose one you think you’ll do well in and go with it. It’s normal to not be passionate about anything specific. Absolutely loving what you do is an ideal that is often portrayed in high school, but it’s not always realistic. If you find something you love, that’s great. If not, then sometimes the best option is to pick something and go with it. You’ll find that a lot of tradesman started that way, especially considering that not all of the trades are glamorous.
    • Once you have a trade that you’re confident in pursuing, then you can begin looking for schools who offer education in your chosen trade.
    • You don’t necessarily have to pick one trade yet; you can apply to multiple different trade schools that teach different trades. However, eventually you’ll have to narrow it down to one when you enroll. 
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    Sean Fowler

    Writer

    Aerospace Engineering at UMD, intending to specialize in aeronautics with a focus on aerospace structures and design.

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