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Articles and Advice

 Landing a Skilled Trade Position

By Joe Stein

Over the years in this column we have reviewed many professional-level positions and the job search techniques needed to land those jobs. One of the areas not discussed as often are the Skilled Trades. These positions require unique skills and are considered among the highest compensated jobs not requiring a 4-year college degree.   A positive attribute to the skill trade area is that there is a growing decline in the availability of qualified candidates for open positions.  This is a real advantage for Job Seekers witht he necessary skills especially during these current turbulent economic times. 

Let’s review some of the positions that are considered Skilled Trades and some tips in landing a job in one of these areas. Skilled Trades can often be broken into Construction, Service, Industrial, and Motive Power categories:

 
  • Construction - These are positions involved in the building of something whether it is a house, building, or a road. Positions in this category include carpenter, welder, bricklayer, and cement mixer, to name a few. Individuals in this area can often also be considered part of the Service category.
 
  • Service – In this category, your role would be to repair an item. This item would generally be something within a home such as electrical, HVAC, or plumbing.
 
  • Industrial – The focus in this area are positions that are employed by a company for machine and building repair. In many occasions, the positions focus on the repair of manufacturing equipment, assembly line, or conveyor. Many times the actual operation of a machine such as a CNC Programmer/Operator would be considered a Skilled Trade position.
 
  • Motive Power - These are positions that focus on the repair of moving equipment/vehicles with “motive power”. Examples include auto body (painter, collision & damage repair) and Automotive Service Technicians (i.e., mechanic).
 
There are many things to research and review when considering a position in the Skilled Trades. A good way to find out the details in these areas is to research the information on-line, speak to area companies, and reach out to someone working within the trade. A non-inclusive list of these items include:
 
  • Educational Requirements – As years go by, these positions more often require some education beyond High School. Many Community Colleges offer degree programs that will prepare you for your new desired career. 
 
  • Apprenticeship – Many of the Trades require certification that only comes from an apprenticeship. These courses should be examined for cost, as different Skilled Trade programs will have varied costs. Another factor with the apprenticeship is that there will be a different time commitment depending on the Skilled Trade.
 
  • Training – What training will be offered for this position? This may vary by company with the goal being to maximize the training offered. This training may be in the form of sending you off-site or staying at the facility and working with a Trainer or someone already in the position.
 
  • Pay & Benefits – Some Skilled Trades have a rather formal pay scale while others will vary by organization. There are many sources on the Internet that will allow you to determine the average compensation for your field. Benefits are another extremely important factor to measure. Among the benefit factors to measure are medical, dental, 401k or pension, paid time off, etc.
 
  • Union v. Union Free Status – This is a big one, particularly in such a unionized area as WNY. This is not the forum to debate the merits of union v. union-free, however, whether you want to be a member of a labor organization may determine what Skilled Trade or organization you join.
 
  • Work Environment – The Skilled Trades may have some very unique elements to it. Whether it is the heat & grime of auto work, to the outdoor elements of construction each Skilled Trade brings its own unique environment traits.
 
  • Cost of Tools – For many positions in the Skilled Trades the cost of the tools needed is significant. In many occasions, that cost is borne by the associate and not by the organization as it is expected that the worker would have his own tools. This issue is probably most often found in the service field and the motive power area.
 
  • Present and Future Employability – Examine what are the future prospects for the field you are looking to enter into. One of the best things about working in the Skilled Trades is that the positions offer such long-term stability. Although the technology may change, especially in the area of motive power, overall the Skilled Trades offers some of the best stability found in the modern economy.
 
Positions in the Skilled Trades require the ability to work with your hands with various types of tools and equipment. As technology improves and increases, technically savvy individuals need to be able to use diagnostic equipment, computers and other “tools” of this nature to complete their job. The ability to diagnose and problem solve requires an increased need to be able to intellectually process varied information and determine the right course of action. An often-underrated ability is the personality to work with customers both in explaining their situation but also diffusing any conflict. 
 
When completing your Cover Letter & Resume (yes, you should have both prepared) emphasize certain keywords such as your specific job skills and knowledge, tools and equipment you have used, your certifications and licenses, and any soft skills (team-based experience, communication skills). In pursuing positions within the Skilled Trade areas you will want to emphasize your attention to detail, your reliability, your work ethic, and your focus on working safely.
 
The Skilled Trades generally offers a stable career in a field that offers personal satisfaction. It is with pride that a Skilled Tradesperson can look back at repairing a broken piece of equipment or building something from scratch and witness the physical output of their labor. This “hands-on” work provides many with a real sense of accomplishment that provides value beyond compensation and benefits.
 
Do your research, speak to others, and decide whether a career in the Skilled Trades is right for you. 
 
As always, best of luck in your job search.