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The One Commodity Worth More Than Gold

Do you want real financial security? Would you like to go to bed at night knowing that when you wake up in the morning, your job hasn’t been packed up and shipped overseas to some call center in India or to some factory floor in China?

While there is a place for a saving program and retirement fund for your old age, real wealth isn’t found in commodities that the stock market, the financial system, or the government controls. Real wealth is what you have between your two ears.

There are three million jobs … open and waiting. Three million jobs that require dying skills because we have come to value technology over ability. However, there will never be a day when you can fix an electrical panel box with a pencil and clipboard or repair a leaking pipe with a computer program. There are just some things that cannot be outsourced, and there is a goldmine of opportunity out there if you’re willing to acquire the necessary skills.

You see, despite a national unemployment rate of 9%, the Bureau of Labor Statistics insists that there are more than three million open jobs in America as of August 2011. In a survey by the Small Business Administration, more than 67% of businesses reported that they were having difficulties filling their open jobs because they couldn’t find workers with the right skills. Yet the skills they said they needed weren’t office skills – firms were overwhelmingly seeking skilled workers, such as welders, plumbers, electricians, and technical engineers.

Where did all the artisans go?

Once upon a time, most of the people in the world were crafters, builders, or farmers. Everybody could make something, and those who specialized in “trades” were the master artisans. They were valued parts of the community and many of them enjoyed comfortable lives with secure careers.

After the Industrial Age, artisanal skills started to get less popular as careers. Trades were dirty, hard, manual work that society was starting to look down on. It was seen as better to go to a college and get a degree in management or the fine arts than to go to a trade school and spend your life getting your hands dirty.

As the years went by artisans became a sharp minority. Now, society is filled with people who can run a computer but can’t bake bread. Kids know how to text and type but they don’t know how to change oil, fix a broken outlet, or repair a leaky toilet. We can build virtual cities and farms in our make-believe computer worlds, but we can’t even wield a hammer or grow a crop in real life. Everybody took great pride in becoming “white collar” workers, but the net result is that we have hordes of unemployed people in white collar industries while well-paid blue collar jobs go begging for candidates.

Security and salary potential

What do I mean by well-paid blue collar jobs? Aren’t factory workers and people who work with their hands getting laid off left and right?

It’s true that increasing automation has done away with many industrial jobs. However, assembly line positions were often repetitive tasks that didn’t take artisanal skill. Tasks that can only be done by hand haven’t been downsized – these still require specialized skills and judgment calls you can’t trust to a machine. And after decades of declining enrollment in trade class, automation, and outsourcing, American companies are finding themselves short of the talent they need.

Some 83% of manufacturers in America report a moderate or severe shortage of skilled workers, according to a study by Deloitte. That’s job security – if work at one firm doesn’t pan out, you can simply jump to another desperate firm. The biggest needs are for heavy vehicle mechanics, diesel and industrial electricians, welders, and plumbers.

The wages are solid, with high hourly wages and salaries that come with full benefits packages. Installation technicians, who help lay communications cable for railroads, make $21.64/hr at Union Pacific, one company who has reported a major skills gap. The company also covers 85% of health insurance premiums and pays a traditional style pension.

Energy related jobs, such as those in Colorado, Wyoming, the Dakotas, and Texas, can pay $70,000 or more per year plus full benefits. Oil and gas companies need welders, mechanics, and commercial truck drivers along with electrical engineers and geologists. Some jobs do require travel to work on problem sites or work in inclement weather, but holiday pay, overtime, and bonus pay are often included.

How long does it take and what does it cost to make a switch to a skilled trade career?

To get a skilled trade job, you do need to have the right training. This usually means a hands-on training program available from a specialized school (like commercial truck driving school), community college, or vocational-technical institute. Most of the programs take less than two years to complete, cost far less than tuition at traditional four-year schools, and in some cases the costs may be sponsored or covered by potential employers.

For example, getting a commercial driver’s license (CDL) can take less than three months and be fully paid for by trucking companies hungry for drivers. In-class work takes three to four weeks, with four to eight weeks of driver training before the test. Pass the test and many truck companies will pay for the program as long as you agree to work for them for a set period of time (i.e., six months minimum).

Electrical, HVAC, or plumbing training may also be free depending on the school or institute you attend. For example, to be a journeyman electrician (2010 average salary: $50,000) you need 144 hours of classwork and 2,000 hours of in-field work, which adds up to 13 months of full-time work. In California, training is available free from the Electrical Training Institute, since costs are covered by unions and private employers, and many other states have similar programming. Additionally, many of the 2,000 hours can be completed in apprenticeship settings, ensuring you are paid while you study. Plumbing works on a similar apprenticeship system, with the potential to paid as you train.

You can continue to fight to earn a low wage in a lousy corporate cube where you’ll always be worried about lay-offs, or you can have job security and earn a good salary in skilled trade professions using affordable two year degrees, certification programs, and apprenticeships that will provide you real, useful skills you can use at work, at home, or that can be offered to that off-grid community when things really start going downhill.

In this new world that our government seems insistent on forging, who would you rather have in your camp… someone who crunches numbers or can write a string of computer code, or somebody who can fix the plumbing when it goes out?

Take your pick.

©2012 Off the Grid News

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