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A Smart Trade For College

Vladimirskiye Uzory handicraft factory in Suzdal, Russia
Vladimir Smirnov

I’ve been trying to get some things done lately and it has become increasingly aggravating because it seems nobody has enough help to do the things I need. I want some new concrete poured and stamped to replace an old patio. I can get it as long as I am willing to wait until next year. My dog needs to be groomed and I can get that done until October. A pole building is something I have toyed around with and that can get done, no problem in 2019. The place I get my hair cut takes a couple of weeks to get me on the schedule.

Why? Well it seems for all those years everyone was being told they needed to go to college nobody was learning to swing a hammer, cut a pipe or replace some old wiring. It seems the trades have been drained to the point that there are many places in this country where it is almost impossible to get anything done in a timely fashion and when it does get on someone’s to do list, the cost is far higher than many might be ready for. Sticker shock can really leave some budgets reeling.

In Charlevoix, Antrim and Grand Traverse Counties the pinch on those in the trades is especially noticeable. People are paying two and three times what might be expected. Concrete mixers are rolling down the road with ‘Help Wanted’ signs taped to the sides. Those pleas for able-bodied workers are for the most part being ignored.

I have spoken to dozens of people in these counties that own a variety of business that require people with some specific skills and nearly every single one is expressing frustration because there just aren’t any qualified candidates to fill the jobs. The owner of a specialty concrete company told me he is offering $25 an hour to start but he has yet to find one qualified worker after months. He says there are plenty of people willing to take that kind of money but they have zero experience and the only thing they can offer is that they will show up on time. He looks up and laughs at that, “that’s what we used to call having a job.” He says he isn’t paying extra for someone just to show up.

A dog-grooming salon I walked into in Boyne City, Michigan is booked out into mid-October. I stood at the counter and asked the owner why she didn’t hire some more people to keep up with the demand. She smiled, “I’ve tried but there just aren’t any groomers to hire.”

Oh, and about that pole barn? Yeah I was pretty much told to get in line because quite frankly there aren’t enough carpenters, electricians, plumbers, concrete workers, stone masons, tile cutters or anything else.

I got an appointment to get my hair cut up north but it was only because there was a cancellation and it still took three days. I talked to the owner and asked how business had been since she opened. “It’s been incredible”, she said. It’s my second location. I asked the same questions about why she doesn’t hire more stylists to expand and take advantage of the booming business. I kept asking the same questions and kept getting the same answers. “I can’t find anyone”, and went on to explain that she actually drives between locations along with some of her employees to cover the current workload. Like so many people I’ve met she would love to expand and to grow but she is restricted by the availability of qualified employees.

So if you were 18 years old today you’d have to ask yourself do you want to spend the next 4,5 or 6 years in college to walk out with $100,000 in debt or more to face an uncertain future and no guarantees in the workforce. Or might you be better off going into an apprentice program to learn a skilled trade?

In Northern Michigan, I can guarantee you the money is solid and the future is too. The same is true in places like Big Sky, Montana and Charlotte, North Carolina where the demands on people with skills in the trades are increasing; which means the pay scale for such people is also increasing dramatically.

One more example for you to consider; a doctor with a lake house in Northern Michigan wanted to finish 800 square feet of new hardwoods he’d just had put in. He asked his builder if he could get that done. “Sure, I can get you lined up with a guy who is great,” the builder told him but it will take a few months and maybe longer. The doctor said he needed it done much sooner and in fact would like it done within a few weeks. Ok. The guy came to his house looked at the floor to be finished and after a moment said he could do the job ‘in a couple of weeks’. The cost would be right around $12,000. “twelve grand?” he exclaimed! He made a quick call to the builder to ask what he thought about the quote. “That’s about triple of what it should be,” he was told. Well then get me someone else. The builder smiled and asked who do you have in mind? The fact is no one else is available and the price quote from anyone else of similar skills would be the same.

The doctor did some the problem however. He hired a guy to sand the floor for $1,500 and then bought stain and sealer himself. That’s what he’s doing with his wife this coming weekend. For a savings of more than $10,000 it was an easy decision for them but others would have forked over the money.

The point is, for those willing to work and go into business for themselves with a skilled trade you can just about write your own ticket these days. I think all kids should know that a business plan and a work ethic is an alternative to racking up the bill at college.

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