It was a typical afternoon in my world. I was 3 feet underground in a hole covered in mud fixing a broken waterline. I remember thinking, "Well, at least it's not raining."
The homeowner had just walked up to check my progress. Following close behind him was his oldest son, all of about 14-years old. The son took one look at me and the condition I was in and said, "That sucks, Dad. What is he doing?"
The father quickly replied, "That, son, is why you stay in school."
What was that supposed to mean? Did they think I was some high-school dropout? Or did he simply mean that I obviously didn't go to college, and that's why I ended up with this job?
I wasn't sure how to respond. Should I let the kid know that I was very happy with my career choice? Or was it my place to let the boy know that I make more money than his father? Or maybe he should talk to the young adults holding their four-year degrees who apply at my shop to work as a laborer.
Unfortunately, this is an attitude I am all too familiar with. People assume that because I am a blue-collar worker, I'm supposed to be miserable at work and poor for the rest of my life.
The truth is I'm very happy with my job. That doesn't mean that there haven't been times in my life when I have fallen on hard times, because I have, but when those times happened, they weren't because of my job choice. The fact is, my job choice helped me climb back up during down times.
I have been told multiple times by work-force professionals -- white-collar workers who struggle to make ends meet -- that they wish they had been told about the trades when they were younger. It's not that they don't make good money, but because their cost of living and standard of living that accompanies their jobs requires yet more income. Some of these white-collar workers worry about becoming obsolete, or, worse yet, they worry that after 10 years in their field, they'll be replaced by someone half their age because of the change in technology.
One of the best things about my trade is that it allows me to move to any town in America and get a good-paying job the next day.
How many people can say that about their occupation?
If what I've just said is true - which it is - why haven't we heard more about it? Why is every high school in America pushing college so hard as the only option for earning a living one day? Why is it that so few people are talking about the trades?
To truly understand this you can go back in our California history.
In 1848 gold was discovered in California. Next came the Gold Rush, and of course, soon California had its first millionaire. Most would assume that this person must have struck it rich, that he found the motherlode.
In fact, the first millionaire was Samuel Brannan, and he didn't get his money from gold directly. Instead, Brannan was a local businessman who also owned a small newspaper. He knew that if he sent out fliers telling of this great gold rush and how people could strike it rich, that people would come by the thousands, which is exactly what happened. He also knew that these fortune-seekers would need instructions and tools to look for gold.
Shortly after he sent out his fliers, Brannan began selling maps to the area so fortune-hunters would know where to look. He sold shovels, wheelbarrows and anything else one might need to strike it rich. Brannan figured out something that has remained true for more than 100 years: There is more money in training and equipping someone for a job than there is in the actual job itself.
Many college courses will promise how much money a student will eventually earn with a degree if the student will just enroll at that particular college or university. Is it the professions who are singing the praises of a particular job title, or is it the school selling the education?
I think that most people are under the impression that going to college is a guarantee that students will one day graduate and earn six-figure incomes. That's simply not true. College is a tool, that if used properly, can be of great help. But a college degree is no guarantee for a degree that will promise a living-wage income. I know people with nursing degrees who earn $36,000 a year, and I know welders who earn close to $200,000 a year.
Now switch back to the blue-collar trades. There simply is not a lot of money to be made in training someone to work in one of the trades. For the most part, this training lands at the feet of the employer. They can spend tens of thousands of dollars training a worker, and they can leave at any time. The only way the company keeps them is by treating them better than the next potential employer. There is not going to be some hot-shot kid fresh out of school who will take their place if they leave. There is also a feeling of accomplishment of getting something done with your hands, in building something.
I think that for the most part, blue-collar workers are generally happy at their jobs.
If you don't believe me, Ask Mike Rowe of "Dirty Jobs". He's built a career proving it.
So the next time you see someone in a ditch, or holding a sign on a construction site, don't feel sorry for them.
They just might be driving a more expensive car than you.