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What About the Physical and Intellectual Challenges in Trades & Manufacturing?

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Career Path Step Worksheet

What is the best first step on this trades and manufacturing career path? Start directly with a job or company apprenticeship? Join a union and begin their apprenticeship program? Enroll at a technical school or workforce development program? As you might guess, answers for specific career paths within this broad industry vary considerably so details found elsewhere in the Trades Hub will be helpful. We offer some high-level thoughts below, and then follow with more comments about each of these three potential first steps.

Most construction trades work is physically very demanding. It’s also typically done outside, which can be incredibly cold or incredibly hot during a typical Minnesota year. There’s no denying that the work is challenging.

Don’t forget to re-read the first paragraph.

Now having said that, advances in tools, safety practices, and processes have greatly reduced work-related injuries in recent years in the construction trades field. In addition, the broad trades and manufacturing career path offers plenty of less physically-demanding jobs if you're concerned about that aspect of it. For instance, machining and manufacturing nearly always takes place inside of a closed facility where, in general, the machine does most of the heavy lifting. In addition, vehicle and engine work also requires physical labor but not to the extent of most construction trades work.

Regardless of your initial step on the trades and manufacturing career path, opportunities exist to leverage your skills and knowledge into a less-physically intense position, including project or facility management, sales, department lead, and production management, to note just a few.

Now let's look at the intellectual side of these careers. First of all, it is very important to note that we strongly believe that the intellectual challenge of any career is mainly related to the intellectual drive and curiosity of the person, rather than the career itself.

If you are bored with most topics, rarely ask questions, and are passive when confronting new challenges, then neither a trades and manufacturing career nor the immediate pursuit of a college degree is likely to be an intellectually stimulating and rewarding path. If the opposite is the case, however, then you will likely realize that either path will allow you to be fully engaged and challenge your brain.

A trades and manufacturing career offers the potential for intelligent, problem-solving abilities to be used because of the need to find a right answer for a specific challenge

Here are some high-level thoughts on the intellectual side of the trades and manufacturing career path:

  • A trades and manufacturing career offers the potential for intelligent, problem-solving abilities to be used because of the need to find a right answer for a specific challenge. When building, machining, or repairing something, the end result is that it either works or it doesn’t. Either the building stands, the lights go on, and the product works...or it doesn't. There really isn't a gray area in between.
  • Matthew Crawford, a Ph.D. in political philosophy AND a motorcycle mechanic, believes that it takes greater intellectual firepower to figure out what is troubling a motor or engine and then fix it than it does to perform many white-collar jobs for which a four-year degree is required.
  • Take a look at the complexity of the electrical wiring and plumbing systems in your home; consider the incredibly tight tolerances and configurations of the electronic devices you depend on, the automobiles you drive, and the medical components keeping people alive; consider the challenge of solving any number of mechanical or systems problems you might encounter during the day and imagine solving them where there’s no information available other than, “it doesn’t work”. Please also consider the electrical, plumbing, and structural framing systems supporting the office in which you might work or the sports stadiums you visit…and then try to build a case that the brainpower behind all of that is less than that which goes into doing much of what we call "knowledge work" in an office. It’s an incredibly tough case to make.

Next, consider the career-path potential for the highly-capable worker within the trades and manufacturing environment where very real problems exist. The problem-solver, the person who can work through issues that others cannot successfully address, will be pulled into greater and greater challenges and into positions of higher and higher responsibility. Why? Because problems need to be solved. Things need to be built or machined correctly. As a result, intellectual challenges will continue to surface for those who are capable of solving those challenges immediately in front of them.

Consider also the career advancement opportunities for the skilled employee in trades and manufacturing. We have listed just a select few for those individuals who wish to build on their technical capability and move up the organization chart.

  • Project management (construction, electrical)
  • CNC manufacturing and machine technology
  • Robotics and mechatronics
  • Quality control
  • Master tradesperson
  • Facilities operation and management
  • Production manager
  • Small business owner/entrepreneur

There are many paths to an incredibly bright future and rewarding career in trades and manufacturing!

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