Author Topic: Exploring a second career as a skilled tradesman  (Read 6453 times)

cincystache

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Exploring a second career as a skilled tradesman
« on: November 30, 2016, 08:36:19 PM »
Anyone out there work professionally as a plumber, electrician, HVAC, or Welder? I'm curious if those career fields are conducive to working part time post FIRE. I have an opportunity to take free classes at a local community college (I also teach there part time).

Questions:
How do you choose one trade over another?
Can you become a licensed tradesman part time (I don't plan on quitting my job anytime soon)?
How do you choose a school? I want to avoid the ITT Technical Institutes of the world.

Any other perspective either for or against the skilled trades?

I enjoy working with my hands and have decent mechanical skills and coordination. I constantly read articles about shortages in these fields so I am assuming that job security is pretty high in addition to location independence.

Is this true? 

Papa bear

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Re: Exploring a second career as a skilled tradesman
« Reply #1 on: November 30, 2016, 09:19:15 PM »
Posting to follow.

I can say on the job front, at least in my area, skilled trade workers are hard to find.  The good ones do really well.  HVAC guys I've seen charging anywhere from 60-100/ hour and electricians 50-80/ hour. Annualized, that's an absolutely ridiculous amount of money. 




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Lagom

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Re: Exploring a second career as a skilled tradesman
« Reply #2 on: November 30, 2016, 09:25:06 PM »
I've thought of doing this as well, but I'm sure there is lots I haven't fully considered. I did read something recently suggesting that "shortage" is a bit misleading as of right now, but with a huge % of tradesworkers now in their 50s or older, a massive wave of retirements is likely to be felt in the next few years.

My biggest concern would be that I don't want to have to have unpredictable commutes to various job sites, so I would definitely want to pick something that would allow me to work near home the majority of the time. Not sure if that's realistic with many trades unless you stick with residential jobs. I do imagine you could find regular part time work as a subcontractor though. Also not sure if there would be any kind of stigma becoming an apprentice as a 30 something or older?

Zap

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Re: Exploring a second career as a skilled tradesman
« Reply #3 on: November 30, 2016, 11:44:33 PM »
I am a journeyman electrician. I work on mostly new construction. I chose this field because the electrician is usually one of the first and last of the trades on a job site and must work closely with all the others as we are the ones powering their equipment. I also find it more interesting than plumbing or other trades, but that's definitely a personal decision.

Licensing varies by state, but where I am it would be very difficult to become licensed working part time. 8000 hours of verifiable employment with licensed electrical contractors is required to sit for the test. Also, if you want an unlimited license, 2000 of those hours must be commercial / industrial. You're not going to be able to get those hours part time.

I went through a 5 year apprenticeship with the IBEW. It was free except for books. I received regular raises and full benefits while attending classes. The training is vastly superior to anything available where I live, and regardless of the trade I would suggest a formal apprenticeship.

Because I work new construction, the work is not always steady. In fact, I'm currently unemployed and have been since Aug 1st. (Thanks to excellent pay in a lcol area and living way below my means, layoffs are not an issue.) Those that choose service work have much steadier employment,  but I don't enjoy it. The work does lend itself to travel. In fact, within the IBEW, there is a large number that travel full time. They may spend a month retooling an assembly line in Missouri before moving on to a  powerplant in Tennessee. Then they quit a month or two later to head to California to work on a new manufacturing plant. The freedom is tremendous.

Playing with Fire UK

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Re: Exploring a second career as a skilled tradesman
« Reply #4 on: December 01, 2016, 01:10:30 AM »
How do you choose one trade over another?

I'm also thinking about this. I've rewired and replumbed my house and am now doing bits and pieces for friends and family.

I'd suggest starting by doing a little bit of each of them to see what the work actually involves. For example for electrical work, the majority of the effort is channeling the runs for wires and testing the system afterwards. In a rewire there is a lot of bending down below floorboards and running wires. The actual wiring is a small part of it. The channeling is incredibly dusty and noisy. When I did my introduction course, apart from the theory it was nearly all wiring, maybe 1 hour of testing.

Could you volunteer for something like Habitat for Humanity to get an idea of what is involved?

alpenglow

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Re: Exploring a second career as a skilled tradesman
« Reply #5 on: December 01, 2016, 02:05:19 AM »
Also not sure if there would be any kind of stigma becoming an apprentice as a 30 something or older?

I'm interested in this question as well. I want my fiance to go into a skilled trade and he's over 30.

Zap

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Re: Exploring a second career as a skilled tradesman
« Reply #6 on: December 01, 2016, 02:45:34 AM »
I was 31 when I started. There were two others in my apprenticeship class who were in their 50s.

Zap

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Re: Exploring a second career as a skilled tradesman
« Reply #7 on: December 01, 2016, 02:54:53 AM »
Adding to that, I've worked with my tools on the job, and also as a supervisor. Speaking very generally, I preferred older folks with some life experience. I could count on them every day to show up ready to work. They had families and bills. Their partying days were behind them. Some of the kids realized quickly that they could make ends meet on 3 day weeks. Being short handed, the office would put up with it because 3 days was better than nothing. It made my job much harder because they couldn't stick to the same days each week. 

former player

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Re: Exploring a second career as a skilled tradesman
« Reply #8 on: December 01, 2016, 04:30:34 AM »
I've heard that the downturn in oil means welders are short of jobs, but that might be region-specific.

If you want part-time post-FIRE work, a reliable local handyman will always find work to occupy themselves and should be able to build up a roster of nice clients to work for without having long journeys between jobs.  If you are looking at a specific qualified trade it would take time and money to qualify and the specialisation would mean that jobs would tend to be a lot more scattered, meaning time/money spent on travel.

But with free classes on offer, you can skip around and see what appeals, which is probably the main purpose of what you are proposing (NB internet retirement police alert).

cincystache

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Re: Exploring a second career as a skilled tradesman
« Reply #9 on: December 01, 2016, 05:01:50 PM »
Thank you for the replies. I didn't think about the travel required but that is certainly something to consider. With young kids, that might be hard unless we did RV living/homeschool. That sounds kind of fun though the more I think about it.

Is there a lot of mandatory travel when you are an apprentice or do you have some amount of choice in terms of how many hours you work per week and how far away from home you have to travel? Could I take 6 years to complete the apprenticeship instead of 4 and only work part time?

I kind of imagine an apprentice as being someone's b**** for 5 years kind of like a medical residency. Is this the case or is the quality of life still pretty good as an apprentice?

My ultimate goal isn't lots of money but a good lifestyle business where I can choose when, where, and how much I work as well as learning a skill that will provide income opportunities well into my 60s and 70s provided I stay healthy.
 


therethere

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Re: Exploring a second career as a skilled tradesman
« Reply #10 on: December 01, 2016, 05:08:10 PM »
Posting to follow.

Zap

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Re: Exploring a second career as a skilled tradesman
« Reply #11 on: December 01, 2016, 11:26:32 PM »
In the union apprenticeship I went through, classroom attendance was required, as was working all available hours. There was no part time work available, it's a full time job. You will find this to be the case with any formal apprenticeship registered with the Department of Labor.

A condition of being accepted into the program was agreeing to work anywhere within our union jurisdiction. This basically was the western half of Oklahoma. I had no choice in who I worked for, or where the job was. I knew this going in and agreed to it. I knew once I was finished, I had complete control over which union contractors I would work for. As far as quality of life on the job, yes, the apprentice will be hauling trash, sweeping floors, or organizing material when needed, but they will also slowly be given more training and responsibilities. A good attitude and initiative will insure that an apprentice does far more skilled work than general labor in their first year or so.

Apprentices work the same hours as everyone else and in a registered program should never work alone. I never felt I had it any worse than anyone else on a job.

I speak only of my experience within the union. The way things work in another union jurisdiction could be different. Apprenticeships outside the union are much less structured, in my experience.

Mtngrl

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Re: Exploring a second career as a skilled tradesman
« Reply #12 on: December 02, 2016, 08:56:31 AM »
At 40 my husband trained in HVAC and began a second career, eventually owning his own commercial HVAC company. He always had a hard time finding people to hire -- even when he was willing to train them and pay for their schooling. It's a good way to make a living, but can be physically demanding. He retired at 58 and sold the business to an employee.

Now that he is retired, he continues to use his skills doing small jobs in his field for neighbors and friends. He doesn't advertise, but through word of mouth does about one job at month, sometimes more. He turns down anything he isn't interested in or doesn't feel like doing. I imagine if he advertised he would have more work than he could handle. But if he did that, he would have to carry insurance, etc. Colorado doesn't require HVAC licenses, though some cities (Denver) do. He doesn't only do HVAC -- general handyman stuff, with an emphasis on HVAC and plumbing. He has a local full-time handyman who calls on him for overflow or stuff this guy isn't equipped to handle.


Counting_Down

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Re: Exploring a second career as a skilled tradesman
« Reply #13 on: December 02, 2016, 09:12:07 AM »
Following.

cincystache

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Re: Exploring a second career as a skilled tradesman
« Reply #14 on: December 02, 2016, 04:33:32 PM »
Thanks Spartana, Zap and Mtngrl. Very interesting

Spartana:
Do you have any recommendations on how to learn "mechanical skills" without being in the military? It would be nice to find a good handyman and learn from them but there is always the question of how to know if the person is "good" or if they will teach me how to do things the wrong way.

Zap:
Thank you for the insight, that was extremely helpful to get an idea of the apprentice lifestyle. A couple more questions;

Is it assumed that you will cover the cost all of your own tools, equipment, clothing, and travel expenses or is that included?

Do non union apprentice programs lead to the same qualifications and certifications? Is it possible to do a non-union apprenticeship and then join a union? I confess I'm not up to speed on the pros and cons of union vs. non union. I have some homework to do.

Mtngrl: that sounds similar to my plan. How did DH decide on HVAC vs. other trades? What did his training consist of back then (even though it may have changed between then and now). Was it an associates degree or apprenticeship? Is the plumbing skill just something he picked up on the side?

I also follow the bigger pockets podcast and they constantly talk about difficultly finding good contractors so that is another appealing reason to develop these skills.

ender

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Re: Exploring a second career as a skilled tradesman
« Reply #15 on: December 02, 2016, 05:10:04 PM »
Following.

I dream of this on the days I stare at a computer screen all day and get frustrated about that I don't get to move much.

Zap

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Re: Exploring a second career as a skilled tradesman
« Reply #16 on: December 02, 2016, 05:10:53 PM »
The non union apprenticeship programs do lead to the same licenses. The key is making sure the program is registered with the US Department of Labor. I have worked with several folks who started in the trade as an "apprentice" outside of a registered program. There was very little training, no classroom instruction, and they were treated as low paid labor. Once they went to work for a company that would sponsor them into a registered apprenticeship, their training greatly improved.

In the union, tools are a negotiated part of the contract. We supply hand tools, and only what is listed in the contract. The contractor supplies all other hand tools, power tools, ladders, conduit benders, etc. The difference I've noticed here is non union shops often require their guys to supply battery drills, saws, etc.

Our contract is silent on clothing, but most contractors have started providing work shirts. All will provide anything safety related. Basically the same on the non union side.

Our contract has no provision for travel reimbursement. It will be something that is will be up to each individual contractor and will depend on the job. I have heard of guys negotiating their own reimbursement deals, but it's very rare, or kept very quiet. Again, not much different for non union shops.

Union contracts will vary depending on the local. Many are better than I have. Some are worse.

There are other differences between union and non union apprenticeships or contractors, but this thread isn't the place for that discussion.

Yonco

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Re: Exploring a second career as a skilled tradesman
« Reply #17 on: December 03, 2016, 06:59:10 AM »
I am a machinist. I started a program in high school, which lead to an apprenticeship and 4 years of night classes while working. The reason i chose a machinist(tool and die maker) is because there is so much to learn, you become a jack of all trades when you own your own shop. Machining creates a Die/Mold/Fixture to build anything you see around you. This entails many steps:

1.(Engineer) Designing while using 3D modeling software
2.(Machinist) Machining from a solid piece of material
3.(Mechanic) Assembly, it could be compared to a giant lego set or creating robot arms
4.(Welding) Many jobs require welding to finish, we also do that in house
5.(Electrician) Many Turn key(ready to run for the customer) machines require wiring to finish them, Pumps, solenoids, switches, breaker boxes, etc.

In our shop we use a large amount of CNC machines, which gives you the ability to start a job and while the job is running on its own with a program you have written, You can finish(or start) another job and learn more of the skills above. We hire a lot of people that take night classes, and actually enjoy taking on part time people because work load does fluctuate.

-Jon

Mtngrl

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Re: Exploring a second career as a skilled tradesman
« Reply #18 on: December 03, 2016, 07:32:23 AM »
OP -- my husband was working in the oilfield as a mechanic when he was laid off and made the decision to get into something that was more stable. So he definitely had mechanical abilities and was used to working with his hands. He chose HVAC because it is something that is needed everywhere. He got an associates degree, then went to work for a company, starting at the bottom as a helper but quickly moving up the ladder. Within a year he was a service tech, moved into building maintenance for a few years, went to work for another service company, then three years later he started his own company.

Much of HVAC is computer controlled (at least in the commercial field -- office buildings, factories) these days, so an aptitude for computers is also necessary.

Plumbing is part of HVAC because you have to run piping for boiler systems and chillers, refrigeration systems, etc.

Daleth

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Re: Exploring a second career as a skilled tradesman
« Reply #19 on: December 03, 2016, 07:36:16 AM »
I have relatives who are plumbers. They've always made a good living and never lacked for work. As far as choosing which skilled trade to do, think about the activities involved--are there any you would hate? Personally I don't think I would enjoy plumbing, fixing people's jammed-up craptastic toilets, etc. And then look up the salaries/average hourly wages... I think, for instance, carpenters make the least of any skilled tradesmen; I don't know who makes the most.

Also, think about what you physically could do or would be ok doing as you get older. I'm guessing, for instance--look into this if you care--that residential electrical work is less physically demanding than plumbing, carpentry or HVAC in terms of the locations and physical positions you may have to work in, the equipment you may have to lift or carry, etc. So it may be an easier job to continue doing part-time as you get older.

FIRE Artist

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Re: Exploring a second career as a skilled tradesman
« Reply #20 on: December 03, 2016, 09:46:31 AM »
The guy who came on reference from my real estate agent to rekey my locks convinced me that locksmith would be an awesome post retirement trade.

Playing with Fire UK

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Re: Exploring a second career as a skilled tradesman
« Reply #21 on: December 03, 2016, 10:22:47 AM »
Locksmithing is an interesting idea. I've been learning how to pick locks for fun, but I'm not sure I'd want to deal with the 'on call' part.

Cassie

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Re: Exploring a second career as a skilled tradesman
« Reply #22 on: December 03, 2016, 10:59:34 AM »
My ex was a tool and die maker. He got his apprenticeship at age 33 and was the oldest one. It was 4 years of training at both the community college on Fridays and working Mon-Thur.  He made really good $ and when he worked overtime got 1 1/2 and 2x's the pay rate. He loved the work because it was challenging, having to find solutions to problems, etc.  He worked on large dies such as for a truck manufacturer and ones so small he had to use a microscope to work on it for a computer company.  He supported the 5 of us well on his salary and it also allowed me to obtain 3 college degrees paid for in cash. 

Lagom

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Re: Exploring a second career as a skilled tradesman
« Reply #23 on: December 03, 2016, 11:35:44 AM »
Machinist always seemed like one of the more interesting ones to me personally, but wouldn't that be the trade most in danger to automation? That said, someone still has to set up the process so the skills required may increase, which I could see keeping the industry in demand, although the total number of jobs might drop. I don't really know what I'm talking about though.

Cassie

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Re: Exploring a second career as a skilled tradesman
« Reply #24 on: December 03, 2016, 01:47:08 PM »
On the weekends the factory would pay overtime for him to sit and read a book. If one of the machines or lines went down he would fix it.  During the week he worked all day of course but to get people to work weekends they gave you a great deal. OT was also voluntary.

FIRE Artist

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Re: Exploring a second career as a skilled tradesman
« Reply #25 on: December 03, 2016, 04:54:23 PM »
The guy who came on reference from my real estate agent to rekey my locks convinced me that locksmith would be an awesome post retirement trade.

The guy had relationships with real estate agents and landlords so he worked days changing locks on rentals and after home purchase closures, he didn't work on call for a 24 HR service.  He showed me how he re-keyed my locks and cut new keys from the back  of his "service Miata" (his van with new key set inventory was in the shop).  I guess someone doing an apprenticeship would likely get stuck working for an on call service though, so until you could go out on your own you may have to, but after that, seems like it would be easy on the body for career longevity, and you don't need a whole lot of kit.
« Last Edit: December 03, 2016, 04:58:46 PM by FIRE Artist »

Metric Mouse

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Re: Exploring a second career as a skilled tradesman
« Reply #26 on: December 04, 2016, 03:58:13 AM »
Anyone out there work professionally as a plumber, electrician, HVAC, or Welder? I'm curious if those career fields are conducive to working part time post FIRE. I have an opportunity to take free classes at a local community college (I also teach there part time).

Questions:
How do you choose one trade over another?
Can you become a licensed tradesman part time (I don't plan on quitting my job anytime soon)?
How do you choose a school? I want to avoid the ITT Technical Institutes of the world.

Any other perspective either for or against the skilled trades?

I enjoy working with my hands and have decent mechanical skills and coordination. I constantly read articles about shortages in these fields so I am assuming that job security is pretty high in addition to location independence.

Is this true?

Shit, if you can take free classes, it shouldn't be hard to find out which ones you would enjoy.  I'd think welding would be a good one to pick up - everything from auto-body repair to custom residential handrails can be made welding. It's also pretty low-cost to pick up your own equipment to practice as a hobby/side gig if one wanted to expand their skills on their own.

SCUBAstache

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Re: Exploring a second career as a skilled tradesman
« Reply #27 on: December 29, 2016, 01:04:05 PM »
Following! I've thought a lot about this sort of thing and think I need to dip my toe into a community college class next year. Just not sure which to start with. I also like the locksmith idea, as I have enjoyed the satisfaction of picking locks out of necessity on occasion (boyfriend lost his trailer hitch key, I locked myself out of my condo, etc.)... though I imagine locksmiths don't do much "picking" but who knows, guess I need to read up on it.