DEAR TIM: I’ve read your column for years. I’d like you to share your thoughts on encouraging a young person to learn a trade or skill rather than go to college. Can you share what you did when you were young and more importantly if you could have a do-over, what would you do differently? In other words, should I encourage my grandchildren to pursue a career doing what you and many others have done? –Melissa J., Palm Beach, Florida
DEAR MELISSA: What a shame my editors won’t gift me double or triple the allotted space for my column this week. I could write for quite some time about this topic. Grab a chair, a beverage, and sit back for a trip down memory lane. I think you’re going to be quite interested in what I have to say.
I’m convinced the tumblers for my dual careers were set at a very early age. I got both home repairs and journalism merit badges in Boy Scouts. I was the editor of my high school newspaper. In college, a very good friend and I worked weekends for a man who bought old houses and fixed them up. My college degree is in geology with a focus on groundwater and the surface of the Earth. I loved physics and chemistry in school.
If you blend all that together you get a very interesting foundation for my careers as a builder, syndicated columnist and Internet video personality.
I feel success in life is rooted in attitude. Another key point is that I feel we need to start emphasizing the word vocation instead of the word job.
Many years ago, young people entered into trade and stuck with it. It was their vocation. They took pride in what they did. I have crisp memories of doing remodeling work on houses and uncovered wall studs and roof rafters signed and dated by the carpenter who installed them. He had that much pride in his work. I always sign my work to this day and often attach a business card as well. I routinely create time capsules for future remodelers to uncover.
I absolutely recommend that young people pursue careers in the trades. We need thousands of carpenters, electricians, plumbers, roofers, masons, etc. We’ll always need them. It’s never been easier to stay busy as the explosion of social media allows homeowners to rapidly and easily share the contact information of tradespeople that do the job right, not over.
The key to both personal and financial success lies in doing the job right. It’s not hard to achieve this as there are countless trade associations that publish the best practices on their websites. Manufacturers have the written installation instructions readily available with just a few taps on your smartphone.
A tradesperson who takes the time to do the job right makes more money for a number of reasons. First and foremost, there are rarely any service or warranty calls. Those are a giant suck on profits. Service calls also erode homeowner and customer trust. Tradespeople who do the job right are in high demand, and can demand a higher wage and get it. The average homeowner doesn’t want problems or callbacks.
I discovered all of this early in my building career. As a result, even though I never spent one dollar on advertising, I routinely had a nine-month backlog of work. My customers and their friends were willing to wait for me to show up because they knew their job would get done right with no problems.
One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t start out with a solid business education. I wish I could go back and substitute business classes for all the silly electives I took in college. At the time, I really didn’t think I’d own my own business. Business classes are available online so you don’t have to go to college to obtain this knowledge.
Business knowledge teaches young people the importance of risk vs. reward. Not all jobs are worth the trouble. It’s important to realize that some jobs should be avoided because they’re just too risky.
I also wish I had taken quite a few courses in psychology. When you have a grasp of this science, you can more easily recognize homeowners who might be problematic. The trade journals routinely have articles about these “customers from hell.” On the other hand, you’ll discover how to identify dream customers. I had many and am still friends with quite a few of my past customers.
I can tell you that several of my best subcontractors are my close friends. Most are simple people who are among the happiest people I’ve ever met. They don’t have scads of money, but they feel good about what they did each day on the job site and their integrity is the highest.
When you think about it, what is important in life? I can tell you it’s not money. It’s the satisfaction of doing a job right, having a great family and friends, and having customers who call you back.
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