Trades for a Young Man in the Midwest?
January 16, 2017 3:19 PM   Subscribe

My son is currently working retail, stocking overnights, and he hates it, and wants to get into something else.

I have suggested that going into the trades might be good for him, such as plumbing, HVAC, and being an electrician. He is very good at math, and knows how to work on cars, and can use tools, so he's very good at learning.

Are there any unions or trades in the Chicago area who would want to accept him? And how would he contact them?

He's open to any suggestions.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu to Education (24 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: He could do worse than to call the IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) and ask how to apply to their apprenticeship programs (actually -- it's probably there on their web page once you find the regional IBEW program he would be dealing with -- try searching for his local and starting there.)

I went to a traditional university but have worked in utility and telecom companies with young men and women who went through the IBEW apprenticeship program (albeit in another part of the country) and they received a decent wage while working as apprentices and acquired a good skill set and excellent career prospects when they were finished.
posted by Nerd of the North at 3:46 PM on January 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: In addition to the IBEW, this page might be a good place to look:

Illinois Department of Employment Security: Apprenticeships
posted by malthusan at 3:51 PM on January 16, 2017

Response by poster: That is one thing I just told him, but didn't know who they were, thanks! But he is also open to other things.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 3:51 PM on January 16, 2017

Best answer: IBEW Local 134 (electrical)
UA Plumbers Local 130
UA Pipefitters Local 597
Sheet Metal Workers Local 73

I'm a plumbing apprentice about halfway through my program in Portland, OR. It is an excellent career for a young woman or man.

Generally, union locals open at particular times for applications (sometimes every few months, sometimes less than once a year -- it depends on the economy and job availability), but some unions have rolling admission. He should the trades he's interested in and check. Look at each of their "total package" wage scales -- pension, healthcare, money on the check, vacation fund, etc. Ask if there are any current apprentices he can chat with about the quality of the program. Apprenticeship application can be competitive, so it's best to put together a portfolio with multiple references and a skills-based resume. Can't hurt to do a pre-apprenticeship either, but if he's already fairly handy he might not need to.

Electrical apprenticeships often come in various flavors -- Inside Wireman and Low-Voltage. It's always better to go for Inside and get the full license if he can get accepted.

Plumbing is an excellent mechanical trade with a lot of work diversity, also licensed. If he's interested in welding, steamfitting/pipefitting is the way to go.

Feel free to PM me with questions.
posted by cnidaria at 3:58 PM on January 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Also, my answer skews union, because in my opinion the benefits in training and money for the mechanical and electrical trades are much higher on the union side. If he was interested in, say, fine finish carpentry, that might be the time to go non-union/open-shop.
posted by cnidaria at 4:01 PM on January 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: He should seriously consider coding. I'm getting into it presently via a bootcamp after 12 years as a chef, but there are many free online resources where a person can get their feet wet and learn a thing or two. Here's as good a place to start as any
posted by STFUDonnie at 4:47 PM on January 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: A couple ideas: why not try coding, as suggested above? The learning curve is pretty gentle, there's high demand, and it's more socially prestigious than a trade, if that matters to him.

If he's not interested in coding, what about other IT stuff? Desktop support or sysadmin stuff. Again, pretty good pay and prestige. If you find the right place, it's a position that does not always require a strong work ethic.

If he works on cars for fun, why not try to get into that?
posted by kevinbelt at 5:01 PM on January 16, 2017

Best answer: As someone who works as a computer professional but doesn't particularly care about the difference in social status.. I can think of several advantages to working in the trades.

The last time I worked in a workplace where I was represented by the IBEW all of the employees (even those who were doing clerical and records work) were represented by a union which fought to ensure safe and reasonable working conditions, demanded overtime pay for work in excess of 40 hours, and negotiated contracts in which all represented employees were compensated with not only wages but also contribution to a quite respectable pension plan.

My time in that position was long enough for me to vest at a minimal level in the union pension plan but can tell you that the people I knew who worked whole careers in such positions are likely to enjoy much more financial security in retirement than most of the coders I know, despite the supposed social status difference between the two.
posted by Nerd of the North at 5:59 PM on January 16, 2017 [12 favorites]

I got halfway through a computer science degree before switching to statistics. I took my statistics BA and got a white collar job. When 60-80 hour weeks are paid the same as 40, guess which your employer wants you to work? I had a more public-service oriented private sector job, so my pay was low ($50k). I make more money than that now, halfway through the plumbing apprenticeship. Journeyman plumbers in my area earn $42/hr plus an additional $27/hr in benefits. Overtime is paid at 1.5x or 2x that wage rate.

Sure, I've got some friends who code who make $300k (and some who make less than me). But I've got a really good work-life balance, a decent job that allows me to take vacations, and a portable skill that (unlike programming) cannot be outsourced. I do not have to sit at a desk all day (thus escaping my personal idea of hell). Instead, I get to run around building systems (water supply, drainage, medical gas, dental piping) and problem-solving. Sometimes I get to play with fire (soldering and brazing). Finally, it's possible to be a Certified Plumbing Designer (CPD) as a licensed plumber. You can sign off on plumbing plans the same as a professional engineer (PE). To qualify for a CPD, you must be either a licensed plumber or a mechanical engineer. This is my second-career plan for when I get tired of being out in the field. And a paid apprenticeship is a hell of a lot cheaper than an engineering degree.

People should code if they love coding. But for folks who love working with their hands, union trades are an excellent career. The prestige thing is bullshit. Ask someone getting heart surgery if they respect the plumber who installed the medical gas keeping them alive... or at least whether they hope that person is a highly trained, well-paid professional.
posted by cnidaria at 6:36 PM on January 16, 2017 [16 favorites]

He is very good at math, and knows how to work on cars, and can use tools, so he's very good at learning.

If he is good at math and an analytical/systematic thinker (which is sounds like he is), he might like accounting. It's also similar to the trades in terms of payscale, the ubiquity of jobs/work, and the availability of training.

In terms of training, if he is a high school grad, the best route would probably be getting a bookkeeping cert and/or an AA from a community college in accounting. If he already has a bachelor's, he should probably still go the AA in accounting route, in order to get the accounting and business credits he'll eventually need to sit the CPA exam.

He can probably get an entry-level job as is, on the promise that he'll be taking classes on the side. He does not need to wait until he has a cert in hand in order to start job searching. The cert is just to show that he has the skills he needs, so if he shows them he has the skills some other way or that he's committed to learning the skills (and capable of it), then he'll still be very hire-able.

In any case, him taking some beginning accounting classes would not be a bad thing. If he ends up going into another trade, even having taken principles of accounting will be very useful in terms of understanding how the business he lands an apprenticeship in functions, and will make it easier for him to set up his own shop one day.

Also, if you're worried about accounting going the way of the dodo, don't be. The work is becoming more automated, but just in the sense that nowadays people can calculate things in Excel instead of by hand, or they can print out checks from a software program instead of literally typing on them with a typewriter. As long as money exists, there will have to be people keeping track of it.
posted by rue72 at 6:38 PM on January 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

I toyed with recommending being a car mechanic, but no car mechanics I know make $100,000 a year, and many, many plumbers and electricians I know make in excess of $100k.
posted by cnidaria at 6:41 PM on January 16, 2017

Entry level accounting jobs pay maybe $12-15 an hour in my Midwestern city for a person with an AA., which will cost about $12k to get. Data point.
posted by padraigin at 7:19 PM on January 16, 2017

Ooh, there's also millwright and elevator constructor - but since they're more specialized, they can require greater travel. I picked a licensed trade with plenty of work closer to home.
posted by cnidaria at 7:21 PM on January 16, 2017

In Illinois, HVAC tends to hire in the winter and lay off in the summer, until you're senior enough to stay hired all summer -- which suits some people right down to the ground, having summers off with their kids or to run fishing charters or to work at camps whatever, but for other people it's very stressful. Electrical and plumbing are much steadier work.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:53 PM on January 16, 2017

Slightly different approach: The community college I work at could double the number of civil and construction engineering techs we graduate and place them all. They find jobs in city, county, and engineering departments, as well as private industry. For reference, this is in northeast Iowa - hardly a hot zone for jobs overall, but our program is one of very few in the state. Bonus: these programs almost never have waiting lists, like so many two year majors.

According to the grads I talk to, the work can blend a wide range of duties, from surveying with GIS units to soil testing to all kinds of on-site and in-office project management stuff.

If he's interested, have him call the nearest school and talk to an admissions rep. A good one will know the admission requirements and put him in touch with a teacher. And if he wants to keep rising, some of these two-year programs articulate well with university-level construction management programs.

Another notion: industrial mechanic or electrician. These are the people who install, maintain, upgrade, and repair industry-grade equipment in production and distribution facilities. At an AAS program level, they dig into everything from CNC repair to PLC programming. In my experience, their work is more stable than other, less skilled positions.

Both these require the caveat that they're tied to things like infrastructure investment and a non-shrinking economy. Hard to think of careers that are entirely insulated from that, though.

Finally, in some regions, apprenticeship programs are at least somewhat managed by the "business and community ed" wing of the local community college. Where that's the case, they will necessarily have close ties with unions.
posted by Caxton1476 at 8:39 PM on January 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

The coding bootcamp thing works very well if you're someone who's already excited by programming. If you aren't already excited by programming--there were a number of people from my summer bootcamp who're still struggling to find work. This is especially true for people who didn't go to college. One person I know is struggling to find a job after their first post-bootcamp internship because of a lack of college degree. Most of the successful boot camp grads I know were people who programmed as a hobby long before they started, and almost all of them had degrees in something beforehand, even if it was unrelated.

I don't mean that he definitely shouldn't do it if the idea intrigues him, but there's a big jump from doing online lessons to actually reliably employable. Boot camps can help but a lot of them focus on web development, and the employment market can get kind of oversaturated in that area when you're not in NYC/SF, precisely because there are so many boot camps now. As much as I love Rails, if he's interested in this sort of thing but not already in love with web development, look for something with Java or C#, they're way easier to find jobs with. (You can, as I did, get a non-Rails job coming out of a Rails bootcamp, but it's harder.)

People should code if they love coding.

This is, I guess, the heart of it. It's worth suggesting he try it if he's never thought to try it before, but if he doesn't run with it once the notion is introduced, don't push it too hard.
posted by Sequence at 1:22 AM on January 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

+1 Sequence -- also depends what "young" means. My husband and a couple of acquaintances had a really rough time getting work after bootcamp over 35, and these are white, reasonably attractive guys with degrees.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 5:08 AM on January 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

My husband is a member of IAM. We're in our 30s and he says if he could do it again, he would apprentice for tool and die. He says everyone who knows how to do those things is now retiring, so he would be in pretty high demand. Where he works, a good tool maker makes $50/hr with union benefits. He should look into it!

He could also take courses in machining, which wouldn't necessarily be as much, but would still be a solid lower middle class pay.
posted by Bistyfrass at 6:41 AM on January 17, 2017

Seconding the community college route for apprenticeships. They usually have ties with a bunch of different unions and trade organizations and if he decides that one program or another isn't for him, it's easier to switch tracks than to start from ground zero and reapply. CCs also tend to offer things like coding bootcamps and other non-credit training programs that take less time than a credit program would, so it'd be a great resource for that as well.
posted by helloimjennsco at 6:42 AM on January 17, 2017

For what it is worth I have my driveway replaced a couple of years ago. The concrete guy said he was looking for young folks that where interested in learning the trade. So if there is a trade he is interested in maybe calling around to others in the trade might produce a job.
posted by tman99 at 7:55 AM on January 17, 2017

Seconding Bistyfrass for tool and die/machining, especially given his love for cars. I'm the office manager for a machine shop and experienced help is hard to find - and retiring. For apprenticeship information contact the Tooling and Manufacturing Association in Park Ridge.
posted by sarajane at 9:18 AM on January 17, 2017

Useful trade links. Each union's site should have details on when they accept applications and what is needed when you show up to apply. One of my friends is a lineman (like for electrical power lines, not phones) in the Phila area and loves his job. Other options I haven't seen mentioned yet are boilermakers (requires some strength) and sheet metal workers.
posted by WeekendJen at 1:41 PM on January 17, 2017

It's not a licensed trade, but the beer brewing industry in Chicago is booming, and if he is good with heavy equipment, working to specifications, manual labor, etc. -- and a good people person -- this is a good industry to be in right now.
posted by ism at 9:45 AM on January 18, 2017

Learn CAD! Community college teaches it, and it's useful in the construction trades, architecture, tool and die, and the ever-growing 3D printing biz. In fact, just learn how to make those 3D printing files could be a business in itself. Best part? Make one digital design and sell it over and over again. Imagine when those things really start to invade people's houses.
posted by wwartorff at 10:55 AM on January 18, 2017

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