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The trades industry is hot. According to Tradesmen International, some of the most common jobs for craftsmen are projected to experience double-digit growth by 2024. For example, openings for millwrights are expected to rise by 15.2 percent, openings for electrician helpers by 18 percent, and openings for solar photovoltaic installers by a whopping 24.3 percent!

It’s no wonder many people see going into a trade as a great way to secure lucrative employment without incurring the high costs of student debt.

That said, just because you are entering the trades, that doesn’t mean you won’t want to earn a degree at some point. As with any career, you probably do not want to stay at the bottom of the industry’s ladder for very long. You will want to take on managerial and supervisory roles at some point. To move up, your employer may prefer you have a degree.

For example, when I conducted a recent online search for roles in construction management and related positions — e.g., foreman, superintendent, project manager, etc. — I found the majority of the job announcements wanted someone with a four-year college degree. According to O*Net, 76 percent of construction management roles require a bachelor’s degree, 12 percent require some college, and 4 percent require a post-secondary certificate of some sort.

Another thing to consider is that many jobs in the trades industry are tough on your back and joints. As you get older, you may find you are struggling to perform tasks at the desired level of skill and efficiency. If you are injured and cannot work at peak performance, moving into a supervisory or leadership role will give you a way to continue working and earning while also sharing your expertise with others.

I have also seen many skilled tradespeople move into teaching careers. With the increasing demand for plumbers, vehicle painters, bricklayers, and so on, there is an increased need for instructors to teach the next generation of tradespeople how to do these jobs. If you want to undertake a teaching role, be prepared to earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree before you get hired.

Other Ways to Set Yourself Apart

Earning your college degree can be a path to career advancement and increased earning potential in the trades, but it’s not the only way to set yourself apart from other similarly skilled workers.

Once you have a job in the trades, you will want to continue to gain experience in your industry. Seek out additional responsibility by volunteering to lead projects and teams. Obtain the OSHA certifications required for your industry, and learn to use the software and tools necessary to perform your duties to the best of your ability.

Brush up on your soft skills as well. Active listening, critical thinking, speaking, and complex problem-solving are just a few of the soft skills employers like to see in tradespeople. Ensure your resume shows you can communicate effectively with supervisors and peers, resolve conflicts, negotiate with others, orchestrate schedules, and make decisions.

Think about your long-term career growth when you seek employment in the trades industry. Stay abreast of changes in your career, such as new technologies designed to automate some or all of your tasks. If you want to stay employed in a trade for the long haul, you’ll need a plan for moving from performing the task to being the one who supervises it.

Ensure you are ready to move up by knowing what employers want. Be suspicious of those who tell you you won’t need to do any additional training or studying to rise through the ranks. Your current supervisor who doesn’t care about your lack of degree may not be your supervisor forever. Plan for long-term growth by taking control of your career trajectory.

Jaynine Howard is a military veteran whose work as a career strategist and reinvention specialist has been recognized by professional organizations throughout the nation.

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