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The Physical And Mental Demands Of The Skilled Trades

The Physical And Mental Demands Of The Skilled Trades

From A Trades Guy…

The skilled trades are a fantastic career. I have worked in the skilled trades for 30 years and the opportunities and pathways provided to me have been fantastic. The skilled trades are unlike any other professional career. Every day you are challenged both mentally and physically to deliver exceptional results. Here are some of the physical and mental challenges a tradesperson might deal with on a regular basis.

Physical Challenges

The trades are tough on your body. Period. For the majority of the trades, a workday will consist of lifting items like tools, materials, parts, and other objects that need to be moved, used or fitted. Bending, reaching and manoeuvring your body are also a huge part of the job. Unlike shop class, in the field there are always items in the way of what you are working on. Also, what you are fixing, repairing or maintaining is hardly ever at a comfortable working level. Finally, sitting is rarely an option. Up and down the stairs multiple times per day, climbing ladders and lying on your stomach or back to get the job done are the norm.

The physical environment that skilled tradespeople work in can also be taxing on the body. Extreme heat and cold doesn’t mean things won’t break – actually it is the opposite. Items you need break down at the time when they are needed most. A/C units break on the hottest days and furnaces break on the coldest.

Weather is not the only environmental challenge. In the skilled trades dust, dirt, waste, fumes and other hazards are common. Tradespeople often wear dust masks, respirators and full face protection. I myself have had to wear SCBA (self contained breathing apparatus) multiple times to complete a task.

Are the trades tougher on your body than office work? Hard to say. We are starting to recognize the dangers of sedentary jobs, especially those with high stress levels, on our physical health. In addition, jobs with lots of distractions seem to be increasing our anxiety levels and affecting our mental health.

Mental Challenges

Have you heard the term, “always on”? As a tradesperson your mind never stops. It can’t. There are too many things that can hurt you. Whether it is pressure from a pipe, electrical current, heavy objects or power tools, becoming complacent is not an option. On a construction site there are multiple people doing a variety of tasks. Having a sharp mind to keep you focused on your work while being aware of what is happening around you can be taxing.

Safety is one mental challenge, another is problem solving, troubleshooting and diagnosing. It is your job to find the problem as quickly as possible, come up with a solution, and repair the issue. This can happen multiple times per day. As a skilled trades professional, you are looked at to either have the answers or find out as quickly as possible.

One challenge that affects both our minds and our bodies is fatigue. In the skilled trades, the hours can be long and you can be required to work multiple days in a row. When you are tired, it can be hard on your body and it can be hard on your mind. It can be difficult to stay motivated and focused. It is easier to make mistakes or incorrect decisions when you are fatigued. Tiredness can be harmful, and it is up to you to be aware how it is affecting you.

How to Cope

Even with both the mental and physical challenges of the skilled trades, I find it to be an extremely rewarding career. Here are some of the things I have done over the years to help me.

Physical Exercise

Being physically active is a major part of helping cope with both the mental and physical challenges of the skilled trades. Strength training helps make the daily physical challenges easier, and it also releases the endorphins that help the mind. My physical outlet of choice is kickboxing. This allows me to work really hard physically and helps me mentally by leaving it all in the ring.

Rest

We are all different, and you need to know yourself. I used to be in awe of (still am) of people who can function well with little or no sleep. This is not me. I tried it. Nope! For me to function at my best, I know I need 7-8 hours of sleep a night. Rest is so important mentally and physically. I know when I am tired my mood is terrible, I do not eat properly and my judgement is flawed. So I take care of myself because I know that’s what I need. Downtime is so important for my recovery.

Some Things You Might Not Expect

Physical exercise and rest may seem like obvious suggestions for dealing with some of the demands of trades work. I’d like to touch on two more things that you might not expect.

Gratitude Journal

I was introduced to a gratitude journal a few years ago by my wife. It has helped with my mindset immensely. For some reason, we as humans like to focus on the negative. By journaling and reflecting on the positive impacts of each day, I have been happier and I sleep better than I have since I was a kid.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness for me is about being in the present. Feeling what you need to feel at that moment. If you are angry or sad, allow yourself to be present in the emotion. Feel it. Then move on. This, along with discovering why or what has triggered you to feel this emotion is a powerful way to overcome mental challenges. If you put in this work to find out what is bothering you, the emotion will no longer have power over you.

Conclusion

The skilled trades are a fantastic career choice. However, you need to take care of both your mental and physical well being to be a successful tradesperson. Exercise, eat well, remain active and rest when needed are great for your physical and mental health. Additionally, reflecting on the positives of your workday and using mindfulness to get to the root cause of your triggers will definitely help overcome some of the mental challenges of a skilled trades life.

Be well,
Joel

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The Sizzle of the Trades

The Sizzle of the Trades

Becoming a skilled trades apprentice opens up a massive range of career possibilities. More people are being attracted to these opportunities, in part because HGTV and the various renovation and real-estate shows play up the glamorous parts of trades jobs. While this is all good for generating interest, it is not sufficient for actually getting people started on the pathway to these careers.

Selling the Sizzle

Almost 100 years ago, Elmer Wheeler advised salespeople to, “sell the sizzle, not the steak”. In other words, sell the excitement, the experience, or the dream that the product or service makes possible, not the thing itself. By doing so, he transformed sales and marketing processes, and it has long been the standard practice across most industries. It is so prevalent in fact that even governments, colleges and universities use it.

Governments and colleges sell the sizzle of the trades and other programs by promoting the excitement and opportunities available. To sell the trades, especially to women, youth, and new Canadians, governments fund trades days and “try the trades” programs in schools and community centres. To help encourage girls and women to go into science and engineering, colleges and universities run science camps and “lab days” for girls. And when it comes time to recruit students, colleges and universities show students the fancy labs and equipment rather than the custodian’s closet, health and safety binder, and researcher’s notebooks that keep the whole operation running.

At Some Point, the Steak Matters

There are obvious benefits to selling the sizzle, in the trades, in science, or indeed in any profession. We have to play up the possibilities to sell any career. So we turn on the sirens and let people slide down the firepole to get people to join the fire service and we showcase brand-name tools and sportscars to get people into the trades. It’s hard to attract firefighters by telling people that most of their day will be spent cleaning, organizing equipment, and waiting. Very few girls, or boys for that matter, will want to go into the trades if we tell them that 80% of trades work is staging – organizing, recording, maintaining, and transporting goods and tools, plus cleanup and disposal.

Having said that, there is a danger of selling past the close, to use another sales mantra. In this case, If we only expose people to the glamorous parts of a trade once they have decided to pursue it, we run the risk of creating unrealistic expectations. For instance, many students graduate from pre-apprenticeship programs thinking that they are fully qualified to do the exciting tasks of their trade and are unwilling to tackle the menial work. Plumbing neophytes want to install the multi-head shower, or would-be carpenters want to build the mahogany mantle, and they get frustrated when they’re told to sweep the shop instead. But sweeping the shop, sorting bolts, cutting boxes and moving pipe are all essential tasks in the trades. None of this is “just labour” or “not real trades work”. It is the steak that makes the sizzle possible.

Trades Work is Teamwork

There is another dimension to the reality of trades work, and it is something that doesn’t get covered in most programs and “try the trades” days. Trades work is fundamentally about team work. Every trades project gets done by a team, even if that team is only the tradesperson and the customer. This means that the needs of the team are paramount, and this plays out in several ways. The most basic requirement of being on a team is showing up on time and being ready to contribute more than your fair share. These are the go-to people on any team regardless of their skill, and they are the ones who consistently get picked for the next project.

Being a good team member is pretty similar to being a good citizen, or being a good professional. The skills are the same, and are based on taking personal responsibility, acting with integrity, and being willing to cheerfully put in the work required to get the job done. All of this is necessary before the glamour can happen. In any trade, be a professional and you will have jobs and opportunities. Be self-absorbed and you won’t.

How Companies Actually Award Apprenticeships

As I explain in another blog, taking on an apprentice is a costly endeavour for any company. The natural assumption then is that companies are looking for people to have some fairly well-developed technical skills in a trade before taking them as an apprentice. Lots of pre-apprenticeship programs are based on this idea, where the emphasis is on the amount of time a student spends in a workshop doing the “hands-on” work of the trade. This dovetails nicely with selling the sizzle, because students get to use some of the latest tools in clean, climate-controlled workspaces.

The problem is that companies do not choose apprentices based on their pre-existing technical skills or how well they use tools in an artificial environment. Instead they hire, and fire, on professionalism. Pre-existing technical wizardry is an afterthought at best. Being a professional is rarely glamorous, but it is the steak that makes the sizzle possible. And it is the only thing our Trade Smart certified companies look for when they decide to bring someone on as an apprentice.

Conclusion

There are tons of great opportunities in the trades in Ontario, and across the country. And there is some glamour and glory in most of these possibilities. But that comes later, after one has become a consummate professional and can be trusted to approach every task with integrity. As in most other careers, the hard work comes first.

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What’s the Highest Paying Trade in Ontario in 2024?

What’s the Highest Paying Trade in Ontario in 2024?

Many of our prospective students ask some version of the question, “what is the highest paying trade in Ontario?” We understand the impulse behind this – many people want to go into a field where they can make the most money. University students ask the same question, “what subject should I study to get the highest paying job?” The best answer in both cases is not so much about choosing a specific field or trade, but which opportunities a person decides to pursue. I’ll have more to say  in a later blog about university choices but for now let’s look at some of the different trades options.

The Four Main Trades Sectors:

There are currently thousands of open jobs in the majority of trades in Ontario, and across the country. The majority of these trades fall into one of four categories: Construction; Industrial/Manufacturing; Transportation, or; Service. As a general rule, average salaries are lower in the service trades like hairstyling, cooking and network cabling (or the rather esoteric “horse harness maker”). Annual earnings in many service trades are often in the $40,000- $60,000 range even for people with many years of experience. 

In contrast, in construction trades like plumbing, electrical and HVAC, people often earn six figures a year while they are still an apprentice or shortly after becoming journeypersons. The same is true for many industrial and transportation technicians as well. Heavy equipment, and truck and coach technicians in the transportation sector, along with millwrights and welders in industrial/manufacturing trades are able to earn over $100,000 a year within a few years of becoming a qualified journeyperson. 

If you Google the highest paying trades in Ontario in 2024, you’ll get a range of answers. Some sites will tell you electricians make the most money, with an average salary of just over $90,000. Other sites, including some of the major job boards (Indeed, etc), will list millwrights, truck drivers or HVAC technicians at the top. So which one of these is right? Frankly, that is the wrong question.

What Difference Does a Dollar (or Two) Make?

You could spend a great deal of time in the rabbit hole trying to figure out which trade pays a dollar more an hour than the others, which internet site uses the best data, which one uses the best estimation methodology, or has the largest sample size. But the fact is, that is a waste of your time. All of the job sites use a similar methodology based on data collected from their own job banks, and none of these are any better or worse at estimating the average salaries of different tradespeople. They reach different conclusions because they use different data.

More importantly, these estimates are not meaningfully different from each other, or between the top-paying trades. Most sites peg the average hourly rate for electricians, plumbers, HVAC techs, truck and coach mechanics, millwrights and others at around $48-$51 per hour across the province. Is it wise to choose a trade based on a difference of $1-2 in the hourly wage? The clear answer is No, and here’s why.

Get Qualified, and Make the Most of Your Trade

I would urge you to be cautious about going into a trade based primarily on the average wage you see on the internet for two reasons. First, you need to become a licensed journeyperson in any of these trades before making $48/hour or more is even possible. If you don’t finish an apprenticeship in any of these trades you’ll be stuck making $25/hour for your career. So pick a trade where you have the greatest chance of finishing your apprenticeship. In other words, not finishing your apprenticeship in a trade with a $51/hour average wage is much worse than getting certified in one with a $48/hour rate. 

 Second, how you approach your chosen trade, and which opportunities you pursue, will have more impact on your annual income than some slightly higher average hourly wage in another trade. There is a critical shortage of licensed tradespeople in all of these high-wage trades, so you’ll always have an opportunity to work overtime or on-call. Working a few extra hours each week can greatly increase a person’s annual income. The impact will be far greater than a couple dollars on an hourly rate. Doesn’t mean you have to do this for the rest of your life, but if you want to earn more money, this is one of the best ways to do that.

There’s More to Life Than Money…

It is certainly worth knowing the highest paying trade in Ontario, especially in 2024 when inflation and the general cost of living is so high across the province. However, there can be more to life than money, so it is important to choose a trade that interests you, or gives you other things besides money. I’m not saying “follow your passion”, or “find your passion” because that is nonsense. I’m saying try to choose a trade that is likely to sustain your interest.

Even if you don’t believe that there’s more to life than money, you should still pick a trade that interests you. The reason is that most people who get into the trades don’t spend their entire careers on the tools. Lots of plumbers, electricians, millwrights and welders hang up their tools to get into sales, estimating, project management, equipment and supplies, or business ownership. 

Sometimes they do this because they can make more money, but many of them pursue these other opportunities because they are interested in the field, and this gives them the confidence to try something new. It is worth remembering that if you open your own HVAC business or start managing large electrical projects, the hourly wage for HVAC techs or electricians on some internet sites no longer applies. So why choose a trade now based on a number that might not apply to you in a few years? 

Conclusion

Starting out in a trade, especially a compulsory trade like the ones we support at Trade Smart College, opens up a huge range of career possibilities. If you’re willing to work hard and you make some good decisions, you will probably have more opportunities than most university graduates. This is because there are far fewer people in Ontario in 2024 with a journeyperson’s ticket than with a university degree, and there are thousands more open jobs for journeypersons than for university grads. If you just want to make money, you can do that in any compulsory trade without obsessing over which one has the highest average wage right now. If you think there’s more to life than money, you’ll find that in the trades as well.

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